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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.

Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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MORE: U.S. luge star adds doubles after Olympic singles medal