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Simone Biles clinches world team spot, set to tie Kerri Strug record

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Simone Biles won a closer-than-expected all-around at the U.S. selection camp for the world championships, clinching a spot on her fifth straight world team next month in Stuttgart, Germany.

Biles, undefeated in official all-around competition for six years, will tie Kerri Strug as the only U.S. women to compete at worlds in five different years. It could be Biles’ last worlds, as whether she continues beyond the Tokyo Olympics is unknown.

Biles tallied 58.55 points to prevail by .35 over Sunisa Lee. Biles had the top score on floor exercise and vault among 15 gymnasts competing at Evo Athletics in Sarasota, Fla. Her major visible error was falling on her uneven bars dismount. She opened on floor with the triple-double tumbling pass, which she debuted at the national championships in August.

Biles claimed the lone automatic world team spot by winning the all-around. The rest will be chosen via committee. Five more women will be named to the world championships team after another day of non-all-around competition on Monday. One will later be designated alternate.

Whoever the U.S. sends will be favored to extend a streak of six straight Olympic or world team titles dating to 2011, the longest reign by one nation since the Soviets in the 1970s.

The other four members of the 2018 team were invited to the selection camp: 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdRiley McCuskerGrace McCallum and Kara Eaker. As was Lee, the distant runner-up to Biles at nationals in August, who eyes her first worlds. McCusker withdrew Saturday due to injury.

Lee and Eaker starred out of that group on Sunday. Lee again finished second to Biles, this time by a margin closer than any of Biles’ last five U.S. all-around titles.

Eaker scored 57.1 points, including a leading 15.2 on balance beam. Her total would have placed second to Biles on both days of competition at the U.S. Championships, where Eaker placed 10th with a 54.65 and a 53.45.

Biles is up to 20 world championships medals after earning six last year, including four golds. She is three shy of the total medals record held by retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo.

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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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