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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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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