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Simone Biles set to star at likely last world championships, fueled by snub

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In Simone Biles‘ second Olympic cycle, she has become comfortable speaking out. Whether it be about problems within USA Gymnastics or taking on the social media critics who disapproved of her last name being on the back of a competition leotard.

Biles begins what will likely be her final world championships — “99 percent” sure she won’t be back in 2021 or later, she said — with qualifying on Saturday (TV, live stream schedule here).

She will compete with fuel added just this week. And she hasn’t kept to herself why she’s “pissed off.”

The International Gymnastics Federation women’s technical committee announced what point values would be awarded to new skills performed in Stuttgart, Germany.

Two of the unprecedented moves are Biles’ viral clips from the U.S. Championships in August: the triple-double on floor exercise and the double-double dismount off the balance beam. If Biles performs them in international competition — like at worlds — they will be named after her. She already has one eponymous floor pass and vault.

The committee gave the triple-double, which would be “The Biles 2,” a J value — corresponding to a full point in difficulty score (one tenth for every letter in the alphabet). Until now, the highest value given to an element was an I. Biles hoped The Biles 2 would be a J.

The double-double off the beam will be credited an H — eight tenths in difficulty. This is what led Biles to tweet, “hahahaHAHAHAHAHhahaHahaAhahAhahahaAhahahHAHAahaaaaaaaHa bull—-.” She had also hoped the double-double off the four-inch beam would be a J.

One of Biles’ coaches, Cecile Landi, tweeted that Biles makes the dismount look “too easy.” Biles concurred. She noted that an easier skill — a full-in — is an E on floor and a G on beam. The double-double on floor is an H, so, she asked, why does a double-double on beam rise one tenth from a full-in instead of three like it does on floor?

“They don’t want to make a new column,” for an unprecedented value on beam, Biles said. “That’s what they said.

“If it were [a gymnast from] another country trying it, it would definitely be a J. But because it’s me. It’s so unfair, because, am I in a league of my own? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t credit me for what I’m doing.

“They keep asking us to do more difficulty and to give more artistry, give more harder skills. So we do, and then they don’t credit it, and I don’t think that’s fair. They keep asking for more, we give them more and they don’t credit it. So what’s the point of even asking? If you’re going to give it an H, nobody’s going to try it. But if you give it a J, not saying people will try it more, but at least it makes sense to try it because it’s something to shoot for.”

The FIG issued a statement Friday.

“In assigning values to the new elements, the WTC takes into consideration many different aspects; the risk, the safety of the gymnasts and the technical direction of the discipline,” it read. “The direction of the FIG for the past two Olympic cycles has been to encourage the perfect execution and beautiful artistic performance, while continuing the development of the skills. With this in mind, the WTC has assigned a ‘reasonable’ difficulty value to the dismount, reflecting on these many aspects. There is added risk in landing of double saltos for beam dismounts (with/without twists), including a potential landing on the neck. Reinforcing, there are many examples in the Code where decisions have been made to protect the gymnasts and preserve the direction of the discipline.”

To Biles, the new skills are more important than bagging a bunch more gold medals and breaking more records.

She is at 20 world championships medals so far, tied with Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the female record and three shy of the overall record held by Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo. Her 14 golds are already a record.

She is an overwhelming favorite to lead the U.S. to a seventh straight Olympic or world team title on Tuesday and earn a fifth all-around crown Thursday. In next weekend’s individual apparatus finals, it would be a shock if she didn’t win floor and vault. She also owns two beam titles (none since 2015) and, last year, earned her first medal on uneven bars (silver).

“This is probably the most confident I’ve ever been,” Biles said Tuesday.

She called last year’s worlds, in her comeback from a year off, “a disaster,” because the gymnastics she remembers most from the meet were her two falls in the all-around final. Never mind that she competed with a kidney stone and still won by the largest margin in history, thanks to her astronomical difficulty level.

But then she said that Aly Raisman reminded her that when Raisman and Gabby Douglas came back from two-year layoffs in 2015, they struggled as well. Raisman failed to make any individual finals at those worlds. The next year, she took second to Biles in the Olympic all-around.

“Coming back off the time [away], it’s not easy,” said Biles, undefeated in all-arounds for six years. “I think people think it’s easy because I made it look easy, but in the gym it’s not easy. … In my time off, I had the time of my life.”

The next 10 months will likely be the last of Biles’ competitive career. Maybe a handful of meets to go. Next year at the Olympics, she could become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since Czech Vera Caslavska in 1964 and 1968. She could lead the U.S. to a third straight Olympic team title, not seen since the Soviets won eight straight from 1952-80.

But first, there is Stuttgart. And now, another reason to give a performance for the ages. But don’t expect any more new skills next year.

“I think I’m out, sorry,” she said.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report from Stuttgart.

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*Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Vera Caslavska’s name.

Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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