U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins record-breaking world championship

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A U.S. women’s gymnastics team mixing veterans and new stars won the program’s record-breaking sixth consecutive world championship in Liverpool, England, on Tuesday.

Shilese Jones, the U.S.’ new top all-arounder, plus Tokyo Olympic medalists Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles, Olympic alternate and 2021 World all-around silver medalist Leanne Wong and 17-year-old rookie Skye Blakely combined to crush the field.

The U.S. totaled 166.564 points with 11 of 12 hit routines, distancing silver medalist Great Britain by 3.201 to break its tie for the most consecutive world team titles with Romania (1994-2001).

It was the closest of its team titles since the start of its dynasty in 2011, though it wasn’t very close.

“It was fantastic,” said 2008 Olympian Chellsie Memmel, one of three leaders of the U.S. women’s program. “They all went out there and did their job.”

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The Americans went three for three on vault and uneven bars to open up a 2.1-point lead at the halfway point. That allowed them to absorb Blakely’s fall off the balance beam and still cruise through the last rotation on floor to beat the host Brits, who earned their best-ever team finish at an Olympics or worlds.

Canada earned bronze, its first Olympic or world team medal for men or women.

Russian gymnasts who won last year’s Olympic title were banned due to the war in Ukraine.

Brazil, which hoped to become the first Western Hemisphere nation other than the U.S. to win an Olympic or world team medal, finished fourth. Its hopes deflated minutes before the competition when co-star Flavia Saraiva was replaced on three of the four events, likely due to an ankle injury from Sunday’s qualifying.

Italy (fifth) and China (sixth) entered as medal contenders but dropped off in the first rotation with two gymnasts each falling.

Last year, the U.S. was relegated to silver at the Olympics, snapping a streak of six consecutive global titles (Olympics and worlds).

Olympic all-around gold medalists Simone Biles and Suni Lee haven’t competed in elite gymnastics since the Tokyo Games, and haven’t committed either way for a 2024 Olympic run. Konnor McClain, who won the U.S. all-around title in August, withdrew from world team consideration with a back injury last month.

So this U.S. team leaned on a recent trend of NCAA gymnasts returning to elite competition: Carey, Chiles and Wong all went last year from Tokyo into freshman years of college, where the gymnastics system is so different from elite that it mostly requires different routines. They returned to elite after April’s NCAA Championships.

Historically, before the name, image and likeness era, most top U.S. female gymnasts either went professional, becoming ineligible for the NCAA, or signaled a retirement from elite competition by taking an NCAA scholarship.

“This is a comeback season for a lot of us,” said Chiles, who earned her first global gold medal. “We’re going to continue it all the way to ’24.”

The U.S. women, competing in a team event without Biles for the first time since 2012, had the best score in Sunday’s qualifying by a significant 2.668 points over Great Britain.

The men’s team final is Wednesday (1:45 p.m. ET, Peacock). The U.S. can win its first medal since 2014 after placing third in qualifying behind Japan and Great Britain.

Jones and Carey are medal contenders in Thursday’s women’s all-around final. Jones, Carey, Chiles and Blakely also qualified for individual apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday.

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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.

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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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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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