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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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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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