Simone Biles’ road to GOAT status, sixth U.S. all-around title, and how it almost didn’t happen

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Simone Biles that captivated national primetime TV on Sunday might not have existed if she didn’t change her mind back in 2016. The double-double. The triple-double. The voice for accountability and change in her troubled sport. All gone.

Aimee Boorman, Biles’ coach from age 7 through the 2016 Olympics, decided before the Rio Games that, post-Olympics, she would move from the Biles family gym in Texas to an executive director position at Evo Athletics in Florida. Biles would not be following her.

At one point, “I didn’t think she was going to come back,” after Rio, Boorman recalled Sunday by phone from Florida, “because she was saying she didn’t want to come back.”

Biles captured a record-tying sixth U.S. all-around title by a hefty 4.95 points this weekend. She has won 20 straight all-arounds dating to 2013, returning last year after a one-year break to dominate more than before.

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She became the first woman to land a triple twisting double somersault on floor exercise and the first to land a double twisting double somersault off the balance beam. Both skills, should she throw them at October’s world championships, will be named after her. Biles already has one floor tumbling pass and a vault named after her.

Biles, speaking after Sunday’s coronation, acknowledged Boorman’s recollection from three years ago.

“Yes and no,” she said. “I really did in that moment feel like I was going to be done, but there was a slight chance that I would want to come back. Everyone’s like, oh, you’re going to come back, and I feel like I fought it more.”

Boorman sensed as Rio approached that, more and more, Biles wanted to go for another Olympics.

“I always thought in the back of my mind, why wouldn’t she come back?” said Boorman, who is still friends with Biles, though their conversations aren’t about gymnastics anymore. “It’s so easy for her. At 22, it hurts a little more on her body, but it’s still not hard for her.”

Biles said shortly after Rio that she would take one year off from competition. She performed in USA Gymnastics’ post-Olympic nationwide tour, breaking a rib at one stop but soldiering on without watering down her routines. She suffered perhaps her most high-profile defeat, taking fourth on “Dancing with the Stars.”

She found two coaches to succeed the irreplaceable Boorman: Cecile and Laurent Landi, who guided fellow Texan Madison Kocian to uneven bars silver in Rio.

“If I had to pick coaches that I would want to take her, it would be you two,” Boorman messaged Cecile during the interview process.

The Landis set out to build on what Biles had accomplished with Boorman. The new skills that Biles debuted in the last year? She had already been doing them in practice in the last Olympic cycle.

“Probably 2015, at some point I asked her if she wanted to continue to upgrade or focus on being really clean and consistent,” Boorman said. “We decided to take the safe route.”

By then, Biles was working on a three-year unbeaten streak. Though other gymnasts sometimes had more difficult routines, Biles would prevail on the strength of her execution scores.

“There wasn’t any reason to push it,” Boorman said. “That confidence had built up.”

The Landis helped Biles find new motivation in implementing those unprecedented beam, floor and vault skills and overhauling her uneven bars routine.

Biles said she doesn’t have a goal to get a skill named after her on every apparatus, but she does submit one unprecedented bars move to the authorities before competitions, “just in case I mess up and do an extra half-pirouette.”

At last year’s worlds, Biles had 2.7 more points of difficulty than any other gymnast. That allowed her to win by the largest margin in history despite two falls (and the fact she competed with a kidney stone).

She averaged nearly two points more in start value than anybody else on each night this week. On the first night, she ranked fourth in execution scores but still led by 1.75 points overall. Biles wore a GOAT leotard at practice on Wednesday, and why not: she now starts competitions with a sizable advantage, knowing that nobody dares approach her difficulty.

Biles contends that, in this Olympic cycle, she has fewer people to prove with her routines and results. “I’m just doing it for myself, and I think that’s the beauty of it,” said Biles, who between routines on Sunday grabbed her phone and retweeted videos of her skills that had gone viral (“I didn’t want to be the last one to see it,” she said).

The drive remains. She was nearly in tears a minute into the competition Friday after overcooking the triple-double and putting her hands down on the landing. She used an expletive to describe her bars routine. 

Other gymnasts have come back with unfinished business from the Olympics. Notably Aly Raisman, who wanted and grabbed an all-around medal in Rio after missing a bronze in London via tiebreaker. Told of that, Boorman brought up the Rio balance beam final. Biles slipped and put both hands on the six-inch apparatus to keep from falling. The two-time reigning world champion ended up with a bronze medal.

Beam may have given Biles the most satisfaction between the two days in Kansas City.

“I finally did what I did in training,” Biles said, “so [Cecile Landi] doesn’t have to go back and say, Simone, we have to work on beam.”

Biles reads a Daily Skimm every morning and owns the book, “How to Skimm Your Life.”

“How to choose wine from a wine list. How to do your bills. So it’s a little more adulting,” said Biles, who is the only non-teen to win a U.S. women’s all-around since 1971. It’s another sign that this cycle is different.

“The first four years went so well, so see how this time around feels,” Biles said of her decision to return to training in November 2017. “It went pretty well.”

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Alysa Liu, attempting unprecedented jump list, takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final

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Alysa Liu took silver at the biggest international competition of her young career, attempting a historic set of jumps at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Liu, the 14-year-old who in January became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history, attempted two triple Axels and two quadruple Lutzes in her free skate Friday. She fell on the first Axel, and the other three landings were judged as under-rotated.

Earlier this season, Liu became the first woman to land both a triple Axel and a quad of any kind. She was attempting Friday to become the first woman to land two triple Axels and two quads in one program.

Liu, the leader after Thursday’s short program, was overtaken in the free skate by Russian Kamila Valieva, who was not alive when Turin hosted the 2006 Olympics. Valieva is the latest star pupil of coach Eteri Tutberidze, who guided Olympic and world champions Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Valieva, who has a quad in her arsenal, was recently injured, according to the ISU broadcast, and did not attempt a four-revolution jump. She relied on artistry and other elements, tallying 207.47 points. She beat Liu by 2.82 points to become the 10th straight Russian to win the event.

Liu became the first U.S. woman to earn a Junior Grand Prix Final medal since Hannah Miller took silver in 2012.

Liu, previously undefeated in her first junior international season, appears likeliest to disrupt the Russians come the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. First, she must compete at the junior international level through next season. She is expected to defend her senior national title in January.

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MORE: Nathan Chen distances coach-less Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix Final

Caroline Wozniacki sets tennis retirement

Caroline Wozniacki
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Former No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki will retire from professional tennis after competing in Melbourne next year.

The 29-year-old from Denmark wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that she wants to start a family with her husband, former NBA player David Lee, and work to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis.

Wozniacki said her decision to stop playing “has nothing to do with my health.” She announced in October 2018 that she has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and other joints.

“I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done,” Wozniacki wrote. “In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court.”

She is currently ranked No. 37 after going 20-15 without a singles title in 2019.

Coached for much of her career by her father, Piotr, a former professional soccer player, Wozniacki used tremendous court coverage — she ran in the New York City Marathon — and uncanny ability to get back shot after shot from opponents in a counter-punching style to win 30 WTA titles, including the season-ending tour championships in 2017.

She also reached three Grand Slam finals.

At just 19, Wozniacki was the runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, then again was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2014 to her good friend Serena Williams.

Wozniacki claimed her first major championship in her third such final, and 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam tournament, at last year’s Australian Open. She beat Simona Halep in a three-set final to return to the top of the rankings after a six-year absence, a record.

As someone who had played so well, for so long, without ever quite claiming one of her sport’s most important trophies until then, Wozniacki was thrilled to set aside all of the questions about whether she ever would win a major title.

She has earned more than $35 million in prize money — along with millions more in endorsements — and owns a win-loss record of 630-262. She spent 71 weeks at No. 1 and competed in three Olympics, carrying the flag for Denmark at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court,” she wrote.

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 20.

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I’ve played professionally since I was 15 years old. In that time I’ve experienced an amazing first chapter of my life. With 30 WTA singles titles, a world #1 ranking for 71 weeks, a WTA Finals victory, 3 Olympics, including carrying the flag for my native Denmark, and winning the 2018 Australian Open Grand slam championship, I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court. I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done. In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court. Getting married to David was one of those goals and starting a family with him while continuing to travel the world and helping raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (project upcoming) are all passions of mine moving forward. So with that, today I am announcing that I will be retiring from professional tennis after the Australian Open in January. This has nothing to do with my health and this isn’t a goodbye, I look forward to sharing my exciting journey ahead with all of you! Finally, I want to thank with all my heart, the fans, my friends, my sponsors, my team, especially my father as my coach, my husband, and my family for decades of support! Without all of you I could have never have done this!

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