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.

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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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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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MORE: Olympic marathon moved from Tokyo to another Olympic host city

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