Larisa Iordache, once Simone Biles’ closest rival, chases comeback

Larisa Iordache, Simone Biles
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Nobody has challenged Simone Biles in international gymnastics quite like Larisa Iordache. As Biles prepares to finish her career at the Olympics next year, Iordache hopes to join her there, which would be quite an achievement.

Iordache, a 23-year-old Romanian, recently announced she plans to compete later this year for the first time since 2017 and three surgeries. The circled competition is the European Championships in Azerbaijan in December, rescheduled from early spring.

Though Romania failed to qualify a team for Tokyo, Iordache can secure an individual Olympic spot for the nation via her all-around result at Europeans.

“I went through a lot of difficult moments,” in recent years, Iordache said via email through Romania’s gymnastics federation, “but I never gave up to the idea of doing gymnastics. It was hard to perish so long, but now I’m fine. I can say that I like what I do so much, so I decided to give myself another chance to prove myself that I can do it.”

Iordache is the last remaining link to the nation’s storied women’s gymnastics history — 10 straight Olympic team medals from 1976 through 2012.

Romania failed to qualify a women’s team for the Olympics in 2016 and 2020. For Rio, the nation could send just one female gymnast of its choosing.

It opted for Catalina Ponor, the triple 2004 Olympic champion hanging on for one final Games. Iordache, a 2012 Olympian sidelined by two surgeries for a broken finger and a concussion in the lead-up to Rio selection, went to Brazil, too. As the alternate.

Unfortunate, given Iordache still owns the distinction of being the closest of any gymnast to beating Biles at a global championship. At the 2014 Worlds, Iordache finished .466 shy of Biles in the all-around. Since, Biles won the Rio Olympics and three more world titles, all by at least one point.

“To be honest, I never thought about the competition between athletes,” Iordache, who also took bronze in the 2015 World all-around, said when asked about competing against the American. “I always tried to prepare and implement my own exercises in a safe way.”

Iordache endured after Rio. She won the Romanian national title in September 2017 and arrived at the world championships in Montreal that autumn as a medal favorite.

All of the Olympic medalists were absent. Biles on a break from competition. Raisman made Rio her last competition. Russian Aliya Mustafina became a mom. Iordache had the best credentials of anyone in the field.

In warm-up for the qualifying round, Iordache tore an Achilles. She was carried off the floor and later wheeled out in a chair. She has not been seen in competition since. She underwent surgery in October 2017, another one a month and a half later and a third in September 2018.

Though she never quit gymnastics, the thought crossed her mind. Then she considered the alternative, giving up a sport that first piqued her interest at age 5. When Iordache was 11, a Romanian newspaper ran a story about her with the headline “The New Nadia.”

“When I’m in the gym I forget everything about what is happening around me, and the feeling I have in these moments is the one I can’t meet in my daily life,” she said. “I try to take advantage of this feeling as much as I can.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

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Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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Kaillie Humphries begins trek to 2026 Winter Olympics with monobob World Cup win

Kaillie Humphries
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Kaillie Humphries is off to a strong start to a four-year cycle that she hopes ends with her breaking the record as the oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

Humphries, the women’s record holder with three Olympic bobsled titles, earned her first World Cup victory since February’s Winter Games, taking a monobob in Park City, Utah, on Friday.

Humphries, the first Olympic monobob champion, prevailed by .31 of a second over German Lisa Buckwitz combining times from two runs at the 2002 Olympic track.

Humphries has said since February’s Olympics that she planned to take time off in this four-year cycle to start a family, then return in time for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Games. Humphries, who can become the first female Olympic bobsledder in her 40s, shared her experiences with IVF in the offseason on her social media.

“We’ve pushed pause so that I could go and compete this season, maintain my world ranking to be able to still work towards my 2026 goals, and we’ll go back in March to do the implantation of the embryos that we did retrieve,” she said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The next Games come 20 years after her first Olympic experience in Italy, which was a sad one. Humphries, then a bobsled push athlete, was part of the Canadian delegation at the 2006 Torino Games, marched at the Opening Ceremony and had her parents flown in to cheer her on.

But four days before the competition, Humphries learned she was not chosen for either of the two Canadian push athlete spots. She vowed on the flight home to put her future Olympic destiny in her own hands by becoming a driver.

She has since become the greatest female driver in history — Olympic golds in 2010, 2014 and 2022, plus five world championships.

Her longtime rival, five-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, plans to return to competition from her second childbirth later in this Olympic cycle and can also break the record of oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

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