Simone Biles wins every gold medal at U.S. Championships

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BOSTON — All the gold medals for Simone Biles.

Biles, in the second meet of her comeback, won her record fifth U.S. all-around title and swept the four apparatus titles, combining scores from Friday and Sunday at TD Garden.

She never thought it would be possible, but she also wants to work on pre-meet nerves, consistency and confidence.

“I’d give it a B-plus,” Biles told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

The four-time Rio Olympic gold medalist became the first woman to win all five golds at the national gymnastics championships since Dominique Dawes in 1994.

She won the all-around by 6.55 points over 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd, the largest margin since the perfect-10 system was thrown out in 2006. That gap is larger than that separating Hurd from the 11th-place gymnast.

“I knew I was capable of [scoring this well], but I kind of thought I was going to be a nervous wreck and maybe fall apart,” said Biles, who wore a teal mint leotard in part to stand with fellow Larry Nassar sexual-abuse survivors (teal ribbons were worn at NCAA meets in the winter and spring). “Going into these events, I know I kept telling my family like I don’t know if I’m going to be able to calm myself down the way I did before and handle the nerves, but so far, so good.”

Biles led by 3.1 points after a dominant first day Friday.

At 21, she is the first non-teen to win the U.S. women’s all-around since 1971.

“She’s just in another league almost,” third-place Riley McCusker said. “I’m honestly just in awe of her.”

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: Results | Biles explains teal leotard meaning

After Rio, Biles took 14 months before returning to training last November under new coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi. She returned to competition three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic with an uneven bars fall.

No falls over two days at nationals. Just three floor exercise passes that went out of bounds (because of Biles’ otherworldly tumbling power), plus small errors on uneven bars and balance beam Sunday. Biles won her first national title on uneven bars, the only event on which she did not earn a medal in Rio or at any world championships.

Before Biles, the Landis were known for coaching Madison Kocian to uneven bars silver in Rio. Laurent Landi recognized perhaps the biggest obstacle in Biles’ comeback is not among her competition or any apparatus, but between the ears.

“To handle the pressure, to handle the media, to handle everybody, all the expectation, that’s mentally draining,” he said.

Biles has repeated this spring and summer that she feels like a better gymnast than in Rio. The Texan is on a five-year win streak with the only end in sight being her planned retirement after the Tokyo Olympics.

“Confidence-wise and consistency, I still think we have a ways to go to get back up to where I was in Rio, but gymnastics-wise, [better than in 2016],” Biles said. “I think I’m finally starting to get it and understand it. I’ve understood gymnastics for a while now, but I think it’s really sinking in.”

Biles is a shoo-in for October’s world championships team. The five-woman squad will be named after an October selection camp.

Hurd and McCusker are also in great position. Jade Carey, the 2017 World silver medalist on floor exercise and vault, could be a contributor on both events at worlds in Doha.

Ragan Smith, who won the 2017 U.S. all-around in Biles’ absence, is in danger of missing that team. She finished 10th in the all-around, competing with broken toes and lingering pain from an ankle injury that knocked her out of the 2017 Worlds, where she was the favorite.

No doubting who the favorite is this year. Biles owns the world’s best all-around score since Rio by more than two points. Could she sweep the gold medals as she did at nationals?

“It’s irrelevant,” Laurent Landi said. “I think you just need to do what she today … and see what we get at the end. We don’t aim to win. I think it’s bad to think about winning. I think it’s much more important to think about what she needs to accomplish for herself. If at the end she wins, then she wins.”

Aly Raisman, who staged her own successful comeback to make the Rio Olympics, told Biles on Saturday night that she’s not human. Biles was asked Sunday what her international competitors must be thinking.

“Maybe that I should probably quit,” she said, followed by giggles.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Biles fell off the balance beam at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago. She fell off the uneven bars.

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GYM NATIONALS: Where Are The Final Five?

Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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