Simone Biles wins first meet since Rio Olympics with fall

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The jitters were obvious and unmistakable. A step out of bounds on floor exercise. A hop back on vault. An uncharacteristic slip off the uneven bars.

Simone Biles needed them. Maybe deep down, the Olympic gymnastics champion wanted them too, if only to help her figure out whether she was truly mentally ready to return to the sport she’s dominated for a half-decade.

The answer came before her balance beam set during the U.S. Classic on Saturday night when Biles found herself in second place heading into the final rotation after a sloppy uneven bars set.

Needing to score at least a 14.0 to avoid losing a meet for the first time in five years, Biles wasn’t focused on the pressure of living up to her own remarkable legacy. She was too busy being mad. And here’s the thing: she kind of liked it.

“I guess in that moment, I enjoyed being (ticked) off, yeah,” Biles said with a laugh.

It showed. Displaying the form that helped her make history at the 2016 Summer Games, the 21-year-old drilled a 15.2 to post an all-around score of 58.700, more than a point ahead of Riley McCusker and more than two points clear of reigning world champion Morgan Hurd.

MORE: Full Scores

The unbeaten streak is still alive. So is the gap between Biles and the rest of the world. Even after a 711-day layoff. Even after switching coaches. Even after growing up a bit. In the sport she’s come to define, there remains Biles and everyone else.

The proof came over the course of two hours when she posted the highest scores on vault (15.4), floor exercise (14.75, beam (15.2) and all-around in the world in 2018.

“There’s still a lot to work on — work on the nerves, work on the consistency, work on the landings — but for this point, at this time in the year, I think we’re in a pretty good place,” Biles said.

Or at the very least, a place no one else on the planet can get to at the moment. The scary part may be how many points Biles left out there. She won by 1.2 points even with major deductions on three events.

“It’s great to see that she still has it inside of her,” said Laurent Landi, who serves as Biles’ co-coach along with his wife, Cecile. “Now she needs to build on this and to take all the positives out of it.”

Biles admitted even she was curious how she’d respond in her return to competition following a two-year break following her staggering haul in Rio de Janeiro, when she tied an Olympic record by collecting five medals — four of them gold — that cemented her status as one of the best gymnasts ever. All before her 20th birthday.

She spent a year basking in the afterglow, enjoying — but not overindulging in — her newfound fame. She hit all the usual post-Olympic notes, doing some reality TV, publishing a book and traveling. She became more comfortable in her own skin, moved into an apartment and got a boyfriend.

There was never any really set timetable on when she might return, but she took her first tentative steps in her comeback late last summer. Things got serious when she hired the Landis as her new coaches last fall, intent not to simply recapture the form that captivated the 2016 Olympics but to push herself and her sport forward.

Things came together quickly. So quickly Biles entered all four events in Columbus and said matter-of-factly on Friday that she believes she’s already ahead of where she was when she starred in Rio.

Yet all that confidence couldn’t provide a true sense of calm. The adrenaline got to her more than once. It’s why she sailed out of bounds on her first tumbling pass on floor and couldn’t quite rein in her Cheng vault.

“It’s kind of hard to hold back,” Biles said.

And in the end, she didn’t.

She stressed uneven bars is where she’s made the biggest strides under Landi, hoping to turn her weakest event into a strength. Her right foot caught, however, early in her routine and she hopped down to the mat before receiving a brief pep talk from Landi. She popped back up and finished without so much as a wobble but her 13.50 put her behind McCusker heading to balance beam.

Despite her anger, she also found a sense of calm as all the old familiar feelings came back.

It’s not unusual for her to go last. It’s not unusual for her to know exactly what score she needs to win. It’s not unusual for her to deliver. These are — as the hashtag that resurfaced on Twitter reminded those who may have forgotten — #SimoneThings.

And it’s just the beginning. The 2020 Olympics are still two years off. Biles sent a message to the rest of the world in her return that she’s not coming back to the field. It’s up to everyone else to catch her.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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