Simone Biles breaks record; U.S. women win gymnastics world team title

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STUTTGART, Germany — It’s that feeling that keeps Simone Biles coming back to gymnastics.

It’s not from standing on a world championships medal podium, which she did for a female record-breaking 21st time after the U.S. won a fifth straight world team title on Tuesday. Instead, it’s that unenviable sensation that surges before she competes.

“Sometimes I wish I would quit,” Biles said after leading the U.S. to victory by a sizable 5.801 points over Russia, extending the Americans’ dynasty to nine years when including the Olympics. “The other day, we walked out there, and I was like, I literally hate this feeling, and I don’t know why I keep forcing myself to do it.

“I hate that feeling like I’m going to puke before. But, you know, we love the thrill of it. Reminds me to never give up because one day I won’t have the opportunity to get that feeling.”

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That day is likely coming in 10 months. Biles is 99 percent sure these are her last world championships. Every time she competes, she breaks a record or does something unprecedented.

In Tuesday’s team final, the first of six medal events for Biles this week, she broke her tie with retired Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the most world championships medals for a woman. She is now two shy of the overall record held by 1990s Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo.

She will move within one of Scherbo in Thursday’s all-around final. Biles is massively favored to win a fifth title in that event. She’s undefeated in all-arounds for six years. She will pass Scherbo with two medals from her four apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday. Biles earned medals on all four apparatuses last year, with a kidney stone.

Biles said she doesn’t think of the records.

“Whatever the medal haul at the end is, it’s whatever it is,” she said.

BILES ROUTINES: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault

But Tuesday was about the team. Biles is just part of this U.S. dynasty, extended here in a final where all eight teams had a fall.

Nineteen different gymnasts contributed to at least one of the seven Olympic or world titles during the U.S.’ nine-year reign. It’s the longest global title streak for one women’s program since the Soviets of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Four women who hope to make Olympic debuts in Tokyo joined Biles in Stuttgart.

They included Sunisa Lee, who at the world team selection camp last month came within .35 of a point of beating Biles. Here, Lee, who qualified second behind Biles into the all-around, had the highest uneven bars score for the Americans. Her fall off the balance beam was the first for an American on any apparatus in an Olympic or world team final since 2010.

She rebounded to hit her floor exercise. Lee is competing while constantly thinking of her father, John, who watched from Minnesota. In August, John fell off of a ladder while helping a friend cut down a tree limb and was paralyzed from the chest down.

A year ago, Lee was third in the junior division at the U.S. Championships. Now, she’s arguably the world’s second-best gymnast, with a chance to prove it Thursday.

“I can’t even believe that I’m here and I’m a world champion,” she said.

Jade Carey, the 2017 World silver medalist on floor exercise and vault, had the second-highest scores of the day on each apparatus, behind Biles. This may be Carey’s only opportunity to compete in a team event on the global stage, given she is likely to qualify for Tokyo in the spring via a new individual route.

The 2018 World team members Kara Eaker (who competed on the balance beam on Tuesday) and Grace McCallum (uneven bars, vault) round out the quintet.

For those two (plus Lee), the tougher competition is arguably making the U.S. Olympic team. And it’s going to get more difficult next year, when the Olympic team event rosters shrink to four.

But first, Biles called for a nap for herself (she’s the team grandma at age 22, the only non-teen) and a celebration for the U.S.

“For all of it,” she said. “For the team. For the medal count. Fifth year in a row.”

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”