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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.

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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