Simone Biles wins seventh U.S. title, more than any woman in history


In a career oozing with historic achievements, Simone Biles once again raised the bar when she won the women’s all-around with 119.65 points as the U.S. Gymnastics Championships concluded on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Now with seven U.S. titles – one from every senior nationals she has ever entered dating back to 2013 – Biles has more than any other woman in history. She was previously tied for six with Clara Schroth Lomady, whose were won between 1945 and 1952 when the AAU was the sport’s national governing body. Biles is now tied with Alfred Jochim (1925-1930; 1933) for most by any American.

The 24-year-old Biles has won every all-around competition she’s entered since the 2013 U.S. Championships.

“It’s really emotional, especially going into my second time doing an Olympic run,” Biles told NBC’s Andrea Joyce on NBCSN. “It’s really crazy.”

As she continues to gradually build up to the eventual defense of her Olympic all-around title, Biles has not been performing all of her most difficult skills, but has dominated nonetheless.

On both days of competition this week, she left out the double-double balance beam dismount named after her and the Yurchenko double pike vault she was the first woman to perform when she debuted it at U.S. Classic two weeks ago.

“We’re definitely going to do it at Trials,” she told media of the vault. “I didn’t do it at this competition because on Wednesday I jammed my ankles and they didn’t feel too good, so we just made a decision to not do it and not rush it so that I wouldn’t be too, too nervous.”

Biles had the highest combined scores on beam, floor exercise and vault; this is the fourth time she has won three or more event titles at nationals.

“I feel like every single championship stands out for a different reason, but this one stands out specifically because it’s the road to Tokyo,” Biles said.

Her floor routine, which includes two eponymous skills, is so far ahead of the rest of the field that Biles went out of bounds four times between both routines and still won that title by 1.5 points. She showed improvements on Sunday though, only going out of bounds once and scoring 0.3 more than Friday. Her all-around score was also 0.55 points higher on day 2.

Trailing Biles by 4.7 points was Suni Lee, runner-up in 2019 as well, with a 114.95 total, followed closely by Jordan Chiles‘ 114.45 points. Biles has won five of her national titles by a margin greater than four points.

Lee competed all-around for the first time since the 2019 World Championships, where she won silver on floor and bronze on uneven bars. She missed two months of training in 2020 when she broke a bone in her left foot, then another two months for left Achilles problems. The 18-year-old won her second national title on bars this week.

“I think this is a really good confidence booster because I wasn’t even at my full potential on floor, and obviously my vault could have been a little better and today my bars was a little rough,” Lee said. “It definitely helps my confidence because I know I don’t have to be 100 percent to be in the top with Simone, so I’m really proud of myself.”

Chiles, 20, is having a breakout year after placing sixth at the last nationals in 2019. A close friend and training mate of Biles’ at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, she won the Winter Cup in February and was second to Biles at last month’s U.S. Classic.

She said everything changed for her after moving from her hometown of Vancouver, Washington, to Texas in 2019 to train at Biles’ gym under coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi.

“When I moved to WCC, I had the worst lack of confidence in my whole gymnastics career, and I think just having the proper coaching and the proper teammates that can support you through everything definitely helps throughout your whole gymnastics and even in your life in general,” Chiles shared. “I honestly can’t thank Cecile and Laurent enough because they honestly are like the dopest people I’ve ever met in my life, and it’s crazy to see how I was in the past to now; I definitely can say my confidence is way better than it was back in the day.”

Biles has mentored and encouraged Chiles along the way.

“[After the meet] I told her that she had done it and she belongs here, and that we’re going to go to [Olympic] Trials and do the exact same thing because this is what we trained for,” Biles said. “I’m happy she got to go out there and show the world what she’s capable of because she deserves it.”

Olympic Trials will take place in less than three weeks — June 24-27 in St. Louis, Missouri — after which four athletes will be chosen to compete in the team event in Tokyo with a fifth athlete competing solely as an individual.

“The gymnast does not have to be an all-arounder,” high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster said of the additional, individual athlete. “Our goal is to provide our athletes with the most opportunities to win medals for themselves and for Team USA. We believe that we’re going to have our strongest all-arounders on the team. … Whoever is really stepping up and showing the best potential for winning a medal or medals will earn that [individual] spot.”

While Biles, Lee and Chiles are all favorites to make the Olympic team — especially with the top two finishers at Trials automatically qualifying — the battle for the fourth team spot is tight.

In Fort Worth, fourth through ninth place were separated by less than a point.

Emma Malabuyo finished fourth with 110.45 points — an impressive result for the 2017 U.S. junior silver medalist after her senior career had so far been marred by injuries; Malabuyo was seventh after Friday night’s competition.

“Clearly Emma Malabuyo was super impressive,” Forster noted. “She came out of a very, very low position at the U.S. Classic, and it’s great to see her back in her international form that she was in a couple years ago since she’s wrestled with a couple injuries here and there. … There were a couple of surprises today but I’d say she was the best surprise that we weren’t expecting.”

Leanne Wong (110.15), Jade Carey (110), Skye Blakely (109.55) and Grace McCallum (109.55) complete the top eight, all of whom automatically qualified to Olympic Trials. 2016 Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner is also squarely in that mix, placing ninth with 109.5 points, just 0.95 from fourth after all eight routines.

Carey is the only American gymnast who has already secured a spot in Tokyo, which she did so by earning the maximum number of points on floor throughout the 2019-20 World Cup series. If she automatically qualifies for the four-person Olympic team at Trials (and chooses to accept that team spot), the U.S. will lose her individual spot and send one less gymnast to Tokyo.

It was announced after the competition that Skinner, Kara EakerKayla DiCelloShilese JonesEmily LeeAmari DraytonAva SiegfeldtAddison FattaZoe Miller and Riley McCusker were also invited to compete in St. Louis. Additional athletes can petition to Trials, a process that is still ongoing.

Among those who might petition are 2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez, 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd and 2005 World all-around champion Chellsie Memmel.

Hernandez, who returned to competition in February for the first time since the Rio Olympics, hyperextended her knee during beam warm-ups on Friday and scratched from the remainder of that session after performing her beam routine in the first rotation. At the time she was hopeful for a return on day 2, but eventually withdrew from the meet altogether.

Hurd has had a rough time competing this spring since having her fifth and sixth elbow surgeries in March. She performed only beam and floor at both U.S. Classic and nationals, placing 26th and 23rd on the two, respectively, this week.

Memmel, a 2008 Olympian, competed for the first time in nine years at the U.S. Classic. Now a 32-year-old mother of two, she returned to training gymnastics purely for her love of the sport and was eventually convinced to make a competitive comeback, which has inspired many. Memmel had the fifth-highest single vault score on day 1 and was 13th overall on beam. She fell on her Arabian on beam on day 2, and also fell off bars both days — an event she won the world title on 18 years ago. After falling twice on bars on Sunday she chose not to finish the routine.

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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IOC recommends how Russia, Belarus athletes can return as neutrals

Thomas Bach

The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.

The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.

Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.

He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.

Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”

“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.

Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.

“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”

The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.

If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.

The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.

In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.

Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.

Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”

World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.

On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.

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