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Simone Biles has a goat on her leotard, owns the haters

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Simone Biles had a goat and her last name in silver stones on the back of her leotard to open practice for this week’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Justified. She is the greatest female gymnast of her era and very arguably in history for either gender. And the sport’s recognizable global superstar.

“I don’t want to be cocky or anything,” she said at training Wednesday in Kansas City. “My mom was really worried about the leo today. … I don’t think there will be anything bad [comments] except for some fans and some haters.”

Biles seeks a record-tying sixth national all-around title in Kansas City beginning Friday. The second and final day of women’s competition is Sunday, A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Biles competed at her previous meet in July with her last name on the back of her leotard for the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever since she became a senior elite gymnast in 2013.

She clarified Wednesday that the rest of her gym mates from her family’s World Champions Centre in Texas were supposed to have names on their leotards at July’s U.S. Classic as well. But they ran into a problem. Another gymnast’s last name, Olivia Hollingsworth, was too long to fit.

“They already made mine and said we’ll keep yours, but we’ll put WCC on the back [of the other gymnasts’ leotards],” Biles said. “Then everybody [online critics] had a conniption. A lot of people loved it, but at the end of the day, I sat in the hotel room. My family said, why are you so upset? I was like, it’s literally my last name. I didn’t choose to be born. I didn’t choose to be given this last name. I was assigned this name, and people are so upset. And to me, it was almost like it was a little bit sexist as well because any sport has the last name on the [uniform], but if I had it there was a problem. Other jerseys in sports. Most are male. And so I feel like if females have it, they’re like, oh well, who does she think she is? And I got a lot of those comments that night. I didn’t think anything was wrong with it.”

Biles also said her leotard choices were to have fun with those who criticize her on social media, particularly those who hide behind fake names or no name at all.

“It’s not right that the haters can get all the jabs and we can’t jab back, like, kindly or nicely,” she said. “I have all the power now. They can say whatever.

“I thought it was just be cool. I thought it was unique. I hadn’t seen it. Let’s do something different.”

Other World Champions Centre gymnasts had their last names on their practice leotards Wednesday, Biles said, but everybody will be wearing the standard “WCC” on the back on Friday because of space restrictions.

“I’ve even seen some of the men in NCAA have it,” Biles said. “And I was like, but I’ve never seen a girl’s leo do it.”

Biles is undefeated in all-around competitions for more than six years, including a women’s record four world titles and her dominant Rio Olympic performance.

She made a statement with her leotard choice at last year’s nationals, Biles wore a teal mint design, sporting the color designated for sexual-abuse survivors. She came forward in January 2018 as a Larry Nassar survivor.

“Going into it, I felt like I would look very good in this color, and then everything kind of happened,” Biles said last year, after the most dominant performance in nationals history. “It is for the survivors, and I stand with all of them. I think it’s kind of special to unite.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report from Kansas City.

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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