Simone Biles lands new vault, wins in her first gymnastics meet since 2019


Simone Biles won in her first gymnastics meet since October 2019, landed the world’s most difficult vault and launched into what should be an historic and perhaps final Olympic season.

She fell off the uneven bars and put her hands down on the floor exercise, but has two months to fix the flaws.

Biles, the four-time Rio gold medalist wearing a rhinestone goat on the back of her leotard, prevailed at the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for the year’s biggest meets: U.S. Championships, Olympic Trials and Tokyo Games.

Biles totaled 58.4 points in Indianapolis. She hasn’t lost an all-around in eight years. Training partner Jordan Chiles took second, 1.3 behind. Some of the Olympic team contenders strategically didn’t compete on all four apparatuses.

Full results are here.

“It was really nerve-racking, but I’m just happy to be back out here,” Biles said on NBCSN. “I’m not really mad about today.”

Biles’ highlight was a vault that no women and few men have performed in competition — a Yurchenko double pike. She had too much power, over-rotating and bounding several feet beyond her otherwise clean landing.

“Well, I made it, so … ” Biles said as she walked off. She then sat down and checked her phone.

If she lands it at the Olympics, it will be the fifth skill named after her.

Biles was disappointed that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) gave a preliminary (but not final) 6.6 difficulty value, making it the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics by two tenths of a point. She believes it should be 6.8, and U.S. high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster is on her side.

Biles likened it to 2019, when she debuted a balance beam dismount that was given a difficulty score two tenths lower than what she believed it should be. Biles called that decision “bull—-” two years ago. The FIG chose the lower value in part due to concern over safety. Gymnasts could be more willing to try the dismount — a double-twisting double back — before they were ready if the difficulty value was higher.

“There’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to reward it the correct value, but that’s OK,” Biles said Saturday of the vault. “They’re both too low, and they even know it, but they don’t want the field to be too far apart. … They had an open-end Code of Points [instituted in 2006], and now they’re mad that people are too far ahead and excelling.”

ON HER TURF: Every replay of Biles’ new vault

Elsewhere, Biles fell off the uneven bars, an event that was her nemesis in the last Olympic cycle.

She also made a rare mistake on her trademark event, floor exercise, in a routine that her “Dancing with the Stars” partner, Sasha Farber, helped choreograph.

After landing two more eponymous skills — a triple-double and a double layout with a half twist — she put her hands down on the floor on a double-double on her final tumbling pass. She still had the highest floor score by three tenths thanks largely to her unmatched difficulty score.

“I’m proud of how today went, even though it was a little bit rough and uncharacteristic,” she said.

Gymnasts were preparing for the U.S. Championships in two weeks in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Olympic Trials from June 24-27 in St. Louis.

At Trials, the top two women in the all-around combining scores from both days automatically make the team. Jade Carey already qualified for one of up to two spots in individual events only. A selection committee fills out the rest of the six-woman roster.

Biles, 24, was planning for 2020 to be her final year of competition. She was in tears after the Olympic postponement. She told her mom that she couldn’t see herself extending her career one more year in a sport where teens prosper (with increasing exceptions).

But Biles found motivation in, as her mom has often told her before meets, being the best Simone. Improving on her already unprecedented skill set. And continuing to be a voice for change and accountability in the sport after coming forward as an abuse survivor.

There were no significant gymnastics meets in 2020 after the pandemic halted sports. Biles’ planned return event in Tokyo earlier this month was canceled. So it ended up being 587 days between competitions for arguably the world’s best athlete, the longest break of any American sports superstar over the last 15 months.

Chiles, who moved from Washington to Biles’ gym in 2019, was runner-up Saturday, three months after winning the other significant competition this year, the Winter Cup.

The 20-year-old considered giving up elite gymnastics during the pandemic. She ultimately deferred UCLA enrollment. Chiles was sixth at 2019 Nationals and has never made a world championships team. Now she’s a bona fide Olympic team contender, if not the favorite to get the second automatic Olympic spot behind Biles.

“She’s a completely different athlete now than when she was in 2018,” Forster said.

Other established gymnasts are coming back from significant injuries or illness suffered over the last year.

Suni Lee, the second-best American behind Biles in 2019, missed about two months in 2020 after breaking a bone in her left foot. Then another two months due to left Achilles problems. She fell off both her best event, uneven bars, and the balance beam on Saturday.

Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion during Biles’ year off, had her fifth and sixth right elbow surgeries in March. She performed on beam and floor, grading it “extremely shaky” and “really not up to my standards,” while knowing the meets that matter are next month.

Laurie Hernandez, the only other active Rio Olympic team member, returned in February after a four-and-a-half-year break from competition. She smacked her ankle on the uneven bars in March and didn’t return to full routines in practice until last week. She did beam (with a fall) and vault on Saturday.

Riley McCusker, a two-time U.S. all-around bronze medalist, withdrew after her first event, vault. She landed, immediately lifted her left foot off the mat and was taken off to the side of the competition floor.

Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympian and 32-year-old mother of two in her first competition in nine years, was the highlight of the early afternoon session. She hit her opening vault, and though she fell off her other event, beam, was thrilled with the comeback.

“You’re seeing how far you can actually take this when people said you should have retired when you were 20 or when you were 24, or you can’t have kids and come back to a sport,” Memmel said on Peacock. “That kind of thinking, I feel, is so backwards, but that’s what we think is true, and it’s not true. For me, I just wanted to put that message out to anybody who thought they missed their chance at something.”

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 91.90
2. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 81.40
3. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 78.18
4. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 77.37
5. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 76.23
6. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 75.91
7. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 75.52
8. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 73.91
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 72.80
10. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 69.05
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 68.53
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 52.59
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 50.88
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 48.28
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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Knierim/Frazier, Chock/Bates lead U.S. Figure Skating Championships, age records in play

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier

At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, teens will likely win the men’s and women’s events. The pre-event favorites in pairs and ice dance, and now leaders after day one, are all in their 30s.

World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier easily took the largest pairs’ short program lead in nationals history in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, eyeing their fourth U.S. title, put up the biggest gap in a U.S. short dance since its inception in 2011.

It’s believed that no pair or dance couple of skaters in their 30s has won a U.S. title in more than 50 years.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California, the largest first-day pairs’ gap since the Code of Points replaced the 6.0 scoring system in 2006.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

The top three pairs from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together. Knierim and Frazier had a clean skate, while Chan and Howe, who entered as silver medal favorites, counted a fall.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Like Knierim and Frazier, Chock and Bates delivered as overwhelming favorites in Thursday’s rhythm dance.

The defending champions tallied 91.90 points, distancing Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, who scored 81.40, going into Saturday’s free dance.

“Freedom and joy came through right from the start of the program,” Chock said on USA Network. “There was no holding back.”

Last year’s silver and bronze medalists aren’t in the field: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue retired after winning Olympic bronze, while Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker withdrew last week, citing mental health.

So Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, are almost certain to make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record for any discipline, and lead the three couples picked for March’s worlds.

“We just want to earn it,” Bates said. “Just because we’ve been around longer than most doesn’t necessarily dictate the results.”

Bates, who last year became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle KwanNathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

But Chock and Bates’ sights are set on a place they’ve never been — the top step of a world championships podium. They earned silver or bronze a total of three times, including a bronze last year. The gold and silver medalists aren’t competing this season.

However, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier relegated the Americans to silver at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If we don’t win gold at worlds, we’ll be disappointed,” Bates, whose first senior nationals in 2008 came when this year’s women’s singles favorite, Isabeau Levito, was 10 months old, said earlier this month. “We’ve set the goal for ourselves in the past and haven’t met it yet.”

Nationals continue later Thursday with the women’s short.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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