Simone Biles goes into another world all-around final, wishing for a rival

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STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles admits it gets lonely at the top. She’s been in a league of her own since the Rio Olympic year. After taking 14 months off, she returned in 2018 to even greater dominance.

“Sometimes I wish there was somebody closer,” she said after leading the U.S. to the world team title on Tuesday, earning a female record-breaking 21st career world championships medal, “but at the same time I have to go out there and do what I came to do.”

Biles won last year’s world all-around title by a record 1.693 points, despite falling twice and competing with a kidney stone. She is undefeated in all-arounds for six years. Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the last time anybody was within one point of Biles in a single day of official all-around competition.

She carries her usual favorite status into Thursday’s world all-around final (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app). Last year’s silver and bronze medalists — Japanese Mai Murakami and American Morgan Hurd — were not chosen for their world teams.

Biles upgraded her difficulty since last year, too. She added two more unprecedented skills — the triple-double floor exercise pass and the double-double dismount off the balance beam — though she could choose not to throw them.

Biles had 2.7 more points in difficulty score than any other gymnast last year, which allowed her to fall twice (one point deducted per fall) and still win easily. Yet she apologized on social media for her performance in Doha, dismayed to prevail without her best routines.

“At times, I don’t know, I still get nervous, no matter how far ahead I am,” she said Tuesday.

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results

If Biles ever needs a pick-me-up, she can check her social media mentions. On Twitter alone, Chrissy TeigenMichelle Obama and Monica Lewinsky congratulated her during the U.S. Championships in August.

“I didn’t think it would blow up the way it did,” Biles said before worlds. “Then on Twitter it was up there for weeks. … I was just looking at my phone. I was like, mom, look. Usually that only happens in an Olympic year, something gets that much attention.”

Then this week, LeBron James retweeted her double-double beam dismount from world championships qualifying, commenting that she was “flat out INCREDIBLE!!!”

Biles brought gymnastics to a place it’s never been. In a non-Olympic year, the world’s most famous basketball player was star struck by something that happened in qualifying, when medals were not even at stake.

NBC Sports analyst Nastia Liukin starred in an Adidas commercial during the 2004 Olympics, then debuted as a senior in 2005. In the gymnastics world, she was a star throughout the 2008 Olympic cycle. But she could not think of an experience leading up to the Beijing Games that was comparable to Biles’ buzz these last two months.

“We didn’t have social media in 2007 or 2008, so it had to be like an in-person [thing], or it had to be someone calling you or emailing you,” Liukin said.

That call didn’t come until after she won the Olympic all-around in China. Maria Sharapova got her number and invited her to New York Fashion Week.

“That to me was like, wow,” Liukin said. “Because of Fashion Week, but more so because it was her.”

The silver-medal favorite on Thursday may be 16-year-old, first-year senior American Sunisa Lee, who said earlier this summer that it was scary to share a competition group with Biles.

Lee was within .35 of a point of Biles in last month’s world selection camp, an unofficial competition where Biles fell off the uneven bars. She was second in all-around qualifying here, 2.266 behind Biles, despite a balance beam fall.

“To just be competing alongside Simone, she’s freaking amazing,” Lee said after the team final, drawing laughter from the rest of the U.S. team. “Words can’t even describe.”

Biles and Lee will rotate Thursday in the same, top-ranked group. Biles will be going for her fifth world all-around title, extending her female record, in likely her last world championships.

It is the biggest day of competition for Biles until next summer. And another chance to extend gymnastics’ reach.

“I never really feel like I’m a big name,” Biles said. “Everybody puts that on me. I don’t put it on myself.”

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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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