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.

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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