Simone Biles wins fourth world all-around title, after falls, by record gap

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Simone Biles can fall multiple times and still win. She had to prove that on the global stage for the first time Thursday.

Biles overcame her first two falls in more than 60 career Olympic or world champs routines to grab a record-breaking fourth world all-around title, crowning her the best gymnast less than a year after she returned from a 14-month break.

She later apologized on Twitter for giving fans “a heart attack.”

“This one has probably been the hardest to get out of all my world championships and Olympic medals, and the scariest one,” the 21-time medalist Biles said, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. “A bit disappointing because that’s not the performance I would hope to give.”

Biles distanced Japan’s Mai Murakami by 1.693 points, the largest women’s world all-around margin of victory under the 12-year-old Code of Points. Why with two falls? Because her difficulty — which accounts for roughly 40 percent of scores — is 2.7 points greater than anybody else, by far her greatest d score edge of her five Olympic/world all-around titles. Falling off an apparatus is a one-point deduction.

Murakami held off 2017 World champ Morgan Hurd for silver by .066.

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The four-time Rio Olympic champion shockingly sat down her opening vault landing and scored 14.533. She came off the balance beam two rotations later and tallied 13.233.

“I didn’t know if I was going to pull it off today, and then I started doubting myself,” she said. “I was definitely shocked.”

Remember, she’s competing with a kidney stone that she named the “Doha Pearl,” which was too big to pass in an emergency room visit on Friday night and Saturday morning. The U.S. prepared an alternate Tuesday team final lineup without her in case she had to withdraw, but Biles said Thursday the pain was manageable.

Not that it made her much less of an overwhelming favorite. Biles had the highest score in qualifying by 4.5. The falls did not put her in a precarious position in the standings.

“Instead of thinking I could win, I was thinking ‘Oh, Biles can fall,'” Murakami said.

Biles still led by .092 going into her last routine, floor exercise, where she is a full point better than the rest of the world.

“I was like, ‘Well, today seems to be horrible, so let’s see what else can go wrong,'” Biles said. “Then I had to get those bad thoughts out of my head.”

She went out of bounds on her first tumbling pass but still scored a 15, highest of the day by that full point.

That made it the largest overall gap in the women’s all-around at worlds since the perfect-10 judging system was thrown out in 2006. Shawn Johnson held the previous margin-of-victory record of 1.25 points from 2007.

Biles also broke her tie with retired Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the most women’s all-around titles. And matched retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo for the most career world gold medals with 12.

Biles can surge past Scherbo on Friday and Saturday with four more gold opportunities in apparatus finals. She could become the first woman to earn six medals at a worlds since Soviet Yelena Shushunova in 1987.

“Hopefully in [apparatus] finals I’ll get to redeem myself,” Biles said.

Hurd, who won last year’s title in Biles’ absence, led after vault and was second to Biles after bars. But she put her hands down to keep from falling off the beam, where she scored 12.933. Hurd recovered on floor, moving from fourth to bronze.

“If you would have told me two years ago I would have had this many worlds medals, I would have never believed you,” said Hurd, a revelation since placing sixth at the 2017 U.S. Championships.

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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