Mai Murakami

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Mai Murakami, all-around silver medalist, ineligible for gymnastics worlds

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Mai Murakami, the world all-around silver medalist behind Simone Biles last year, will not be chosen for Japan’s team for October’s world championships. At the moment, at least.

“Yes, she is in eligible [sic] for the world championships for now,” Japan’s gymnastics federation emailed Monday when asked to confirm reports that Murakami was indeed out of the biggest meet between now and the Tokyo Olympics.

The federation later responded to a follow-up email Monday morning (Monday evening Japan time) asking if Murakami’s status could change or if she could be named an alternate.

“We don’t know yet,” it responded. “We will decide everything by the beginning of July.”

Murakami, 22, missed one of the nation’s spring qualifiers for fall worlds with a reported back injury. That is the reason she’s ineligible, according to Japanese media.

October’s worlds in Germany are crucial for the Japanese women. They must place in the top nine in the team event to qualify a full team for the Tokyo Olympics (setting aside the already qualified U.S., Russia and China).

That shouldn’t be a problem, given Japan has been in the top five at every Olympics and worlds since 2008 (again, setting aside the U.S., Russia and China). But not having its best gymnast, arguably the greatest female gymnast in the nation’s history, makes matters more difficult.

Murakami, a Tokyo native, was a 19-year-old alternate at the 2015 Worlds. She ended up competing due to a teammate’s injury and placed sixth in the all-around, the best finish by a Japanese woman in six years.

In her Olympic debut in Rio, Murakami had the best finish by a Japanese female gymnast, seventh on floor exercise. She followed that by topping all-around qualifying at the 2017 World Championships, where a fall off the balance beam in the final dropped her to fourth.

She bounced back to win the floor exercise title at those Worlds, becoming the second Japanese woman to win an Olympic or world all-around title. And the first since 1954.

Then last year, she finished between Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd, becoming the first woman to beat an American in an Olympic or world all-around final since 2014.

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Simone Biles wins fourth world all-around title, after falls, by record gap

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Simone Biles can fall multiple times and still win. She had to prove that on the global stage for the first time Thursday.

Biles overcame her first two falls in more than 60 career Olympic or world champs routines to grab a record-breaking fourth world all-around title, crowning her the best gymnast less than a year after she returned from a 14-month break.

She later apologized on Twitter for giving fans “a heart attack.”

“This one has probably been the hardest to get out of all my world championships and Olympic medals, and the scariest one,” the 21-time medalist Biles said, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. “A bit disappointing because that’s not the performance I would hope to give.”

Biles distanced Japan’s Mai Murakami by 1.693 points, the largest women’s world all-around margin of victory under the 12-year-old Code of Points. Why with two falls? Because her difficulty — which accounts for roughly 40 percent of scores — is 2.7 points greater than anybody else, by far her greatest d score edge of her five Olympic/world all-around titles. Falling off an apparatus is a one-point deduction.

Murakami held off 2017 World champ Morgan Hurd for silver by .066.

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The four-time Rio Olympic champion shockingly sat down her opening vault landing and scored 14.533. She came off the balance beam two rotations later and tallied 13.233.

“I didn’t know if I was going to pull it off today, and then I started doubting myself,” she said. “I was definitely shocked.”

Remember, she’s competing with a kidney stone that she named the “Doha Pearl,” which was too big to pass in an emergency room visit on Friday night and Saturday morning. The U.S. prepared an alternate Tuesday team final lineup without her in case she had to withdraw, but Biles said Thursday the pain was manageable.

Not that it made her much less of an overwhelming favorite. Biles had the highest score in qualifying by 4.5. The falls did not put her in a precarious position in the standings.

“Instead of thinking I could win, I was thinking ‘Oh, Biles can fall,'” Murakami said.

Biles still led by .092 going into her last routine, floor exercise, where she is a full point better than the rest of the world.

“I was like, ‘Well, today seems to be horrible, so let’s see what else can go wrong,'” Biles said. “Then I had to get those bad thoughts out of my head.”

She went out of bounds on her first tumbling pass but still scored a 15, highest of the day by that full point.

That made it the largest overall gap in the women’s all-around at worlds since the perfect-10 judging system was thrown out in 2006. Shawn Johnson held the previous margin-of-victory record of 1.25 points from 2007.

Biles also broke her tie with retired Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the most women’s all-around titles. And matched retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo for the most career world gold medals with 12.

Biles can surge past Scherbo on Friday and Saturday with four more gold opportunities in apparatus finals. She could become the first woman to earn six medals at a worlds since Soviet Yelena Shushunova in 1987.

“Hopefully in [apparatus] finals I’ll get to redeem myself,” Biles said.

Hurd, who won last year’s title in Biles’ absence, led after vault and was second to Biles after bars. But she put her hands down to keep from falling off the beam, where she scored 12.933. Hurd recovered on floor, moving from fourth to bronze.

“If you would have told me two years ago I would have had this many worlds medals, I would have never believed you,” said Hurd, a revelation since placing sixth at the 2017 U.S. Championships.

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Morgan Hurd wins shock world all-around title

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Morgan Hurd was the U.S.’ only hope. She was up to the task.

The 16-year-old in glasses won the U.S.’ seventh straight Olympic or world all-around title in Montreal on Friday night.

She followed the likes of Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles.

Hurd did so after U.S. champion Ragan Smith withdrew minutes before the competition with an ankle injury.

Hurd did so after finishing sixth at the P&G Championships in August and sneaking onto the four-woman world team at a September selection camp.

Hurd did so after going into the final rotation, floor exercise, two tenths of a point behind Canadian Ellie Black. Black, fifth in Rio, was the overwhelming crowd favorite at the 1976 Olympic Stadium.

Hurd edged Black by one tenth of a point overall. Russia’s Elena Eremina took bronze in a competition that lacked the top four finishers from Rio.

“I was just so honored to be even picked for the worlds team,” said Hurd, who hit her four routines solidly save a minor uneven bars error and some balance beam wobbles. “It honestly just felt like the best floor routine I’ve ever done.”

HURD VIDEOS: Beam | Floor | Uneven Bars | Vault

The highlight of the night may have been the medal ceremony. Hurd received her gold medal from Nadia Comaneci, the 1976 Olympic all-around champion in Montreal.

“In third grade I was actually [Comaneci] for a school project,” Hurd said. “I went and dressed as her.”

Every member of the Final Five — including Olympic all-around gold and silver medalists Biles and Aly Raisman — is sitting out this season.

Biles and Raisman have said they plan to come back with eyes on Tokyo 2020. (When she was 13, Hurd woke up before dawn to live blog Biles’ performance at the 2014 World Championships in China.)

Friday’s final also missed the two favorites going into the week — the Olympic alternate Smith and Romanian Larisa Iordache.

Smith left on crutches after injuring herself warming up for her first event — vault (video here).

She was taken for X-Rays, according to USA Gymnastics. Smith’s score in qualifying, a 55.932 with a balance beam fall, was seven tenths better than Hurd’s total Friday.

Iordache, a two-time world all-around medalist, tore an Achilles warming up for floor exercise before qualification on Wednesday.

Hurd, adopted from China as a toddler and living in Delaware, is the youngest Olympic or world all-around champion since Aliya Mustafina in 2010.

She repeated Biles’ feat of winning the world all-around title in her first year as a senior gymnast, the year after the Olympics.

Hurd had the added hurdle of coming back from spring elbow surgery, too.

Black, who had never before won an Olympic or world medal, became the first Canadian male or female gymnast to win an Olympic or world all-around medal of any color.

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