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Simone Biles eyes record, continues comeback at gymnastics nationals

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After Simone Biles won her comeback meet with the world’s highest all-around score since the Rio Games, she said most of her routines felt a bit off.

“We’ll just start over,” she said following the U.S. Classic on July 28, her first meet since Rio.

Biles returns this week for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston. History is at stake.

The quadruple Olympic gold medalist can become the first woman to win five U.S. all-around titles, breaking her tie with Joan Moore Gnat since USA Gymnastics began crowning national champions in 1963.

Clara Schroth Lomady won six AAU all-around titles between 1945 and 1952.

Expect Biles to be better than at the U.S. Classic, where she fell off the uneven bars and actually trailed going into the last rotation.

She considered pulling out of the last event, balance beam. But an angry Biles mounted the four-inch-wide crucible and posted the highest score of the night by nearly a point.

“We still have a lot to go,” said Biles, who won by 1.2 points, comfortably extending her five-year win streak. “This was one stepping stone.”

Nationals is a stepping stone, too.

No woman can clinch a spot on the world championships team in two days of competition at TD Garden, but a selection committee will be watching.

The five-woman team for worlds in Doha will be chosen after an October selection camp, typically closed-doors. The top all-arounder at the camp clinches a spot. The committee picks the rest.

MORE: Gymnastics nationals TV, stream schedule

This week’s other all-around contenders:

Morgan Hurd
2017 World champion
2018 American Cup champion

The Harry Potter fanatic who competes in glasses was sixth at this meet a year ago. She was questionable at best to make the four-woman world championships team. But Hurd, coming back from elbow surgery, impressed at a closed-door selection camp to earn a spot at worlds. She then extended the U.S. streak of global all-around champions to seven years, following Jordyn WieberGabby Douglas and Biles. She was third at the U.S. Classic despite a balance beam fall.

Ragan Smith
2017 U.S. champion
2016 Olympic alternate

Smith was the 2017 World all-around favorite until suffering an ankle injury minutes before the final, forcing her to withdraw. The Texan coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal returned to competition in March, then competed on three of four events at the U.S. Classic, posting the third-highest score on beam.

Riley McCusker
2017 U.S. bronze medalist
2018 U.S. Classic silver medalist

McCusker, from the same New Jersey gym as 2016 Olympic team champion Laurie Hernandez, missed 2017 Worlds due to injury. She returned to all-around competition at the U.S. Classic, where she led Biles going into the last rotation before finishing 1.2 behind.

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MORE: USA Gymnastics names new women’s national team coordinator

Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC