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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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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Maria Sharapova wraps up tennis career after nearly two decades, career Slam

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Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement after a professional tennis career that includes five Grand Slam wins, 36 singles titles and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova was only 17 when she won her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before completing her career Grand Slam in the 2012 French Open. She won the French Open again in 2014.

After moving from Russia to Florida at age 9 to train at the Bollettieri Academy, she made her professional debut just after her 14th birthday in 2001. She graduated to top-level events and majors within two years and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2003.

In 2004, she upset Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams at Wimbledon and beat Williams again at the Tour Championships.

By 2005, the 6-foot-2 player had claimed the top spot in the world rankings. She remained in the top five for most of the next four years before suffering an injury to her right shoulder that limited her tournament schedule in 2008 and 2009. By 2011, she had reclaimed her status as a top-five player and remained there until 2016.

Her career declined after a positive drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. The substance in question, meldonium, had been given by Russian doctors to many athletes.

An initial suspension of two years was reduced to 15 months, but she wasn’t able to get back to her previous form. She won one more tournament in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 French Open, but she fared poorly in sporadic appearances in 2019. Her last match was a loss to Donna Vekic in the first round of the Australian Open in January.

SEE: Sharapova discusses reduced ban on TODAY

Her meldonium suspension also cost her commercial sponsorships and her role as a UN Development Program ambassador, which she earned with her work to help survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

She was involved in the Olympics as a silver medalist in 2012, losing to Williams in the final, and as one of the final torch bearers in the relay to the 2014 Olympics opening ceremony in her home country.

She’s also third on the all-time WTA earnings list behind Serena and Venus Williams, taking in more than $38m in her career on top of lucrative endorsement deals.

Federica Brignone hopes World Cup rival Mikaela Shiffrin will return soon

Shiffrin and Brignone
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s prolonged absence from the World Cup Alpine skiing circuit has opened the door for Italy’s Federica Brignone to break the American’s grip on the season title, but Brignone hopes her friend and rival will be back in competition soon.

“I really do hope that she will return soon for herself so she can do again what she loves most,” Brignone said.

Brignone took the season lead from Shiffrin, who has won the last three World Cup overall titles, on Sunday and has a 73-point advantage with 11 of the season’s 40 races remaining. She also leads Shiffrin by 74 points in the giant slalom standings.

READ: Brignone moves into World Cup lead

No Italian woman has won the overall World Cup. Brignone was fifth in 2017 and won the Alpine combined discipline title last season.

Brignone will have a chance to clinch another Alpine combined discipline title and extend her overall lead in her home country this weekend. While some other sports events in Italy have been canceled or otherwise affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the host resort of La Thuile has so far been spared from the virus’ spread.

Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the only other skier with a realistic chance of winning the overall trophy, is dealing with a knee injury and might not be able to race this weekend. Vhlova leads Shiffrin by 20 points in the slalom standings.

Shiffrin has not competed since the death of her father Feb. 2, and she has not announced plans to return. She was not on pace to match her astounding 17-win 2018-19 season but still had six wins and had reached the podium in 13 of 19 races.

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