Nikita Nagornyy

Simone Biles breaks gymnastics worlds medals record, gets 5 golds this week

Leave a comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles‘ routine this week that no fans saw took place hours before she competed.

Her mom, Nellie, said she made up Biles’ hair in the mornings at the world championships, her first time doing so regularly at a major competition in several years. In the last Olympic cycle, her parents were allowed little contact with her at major international meets.

That policy changed in her comeback after 14 months away from training post-Rio.

“It’s a great bonding experience,” Nellie said before her daughter won her fourth and fifth gold medals to close the meet on Sunday, breaking the record for career world medals and giving her 25 total, including 19 golds. “Whatever is on my mind, I can tell her. I can get a feel for how she’s feeling.”

Nellie had little to tell Biles before what were likely the final world championships events of her career.

She doesn’t come across as stressed,” at this meet, Nellie said, noting what makes this year unique from her five previous Olympic or world competitions. “It’s how calm she is and how confident she is with her skills.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles, who became the first gymnast to earn five golds at a single worlds since 1958, said before the meet she’s 99 percent sure she won’t be back for 2021 or later.

Nellie sent her off into Sunday’s balance beam and floor exercise finals with one of her two go-to phrases: “Just like practice.” The other, which Nellie often tweets at Biles, is “Be the best Simone,” a nod not to get caught up in others’ expectations.

They couldn’t be higher heading toward Tokyo.

For the first time in at least 30 years, perhaps ever, the most recognizable U.S. athlete in Tokyo among sports whose biggest competition is the Olympics will be a gymnast.

After five golds here, there will be talk of Biles trying to become the second woman to earn five golds at a single Games. The other was 1988 East German swimmer Kristin OttoKatie Ledecky and Simone Manuel could also have a say here.

A little reflection: When Biles won her first four world championships medals in 2013, including all-around gold, any expectations had to be held in check. At the time, this stat was key: the previous 10 years, 10 different women had been the top U.S. all-around finisher at the season’s biggest meet. And no U.S. woman had made back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000. Could Biles possibly keep up that level of gymnastics for another three years?

One of her coaches even doubted it. Aimee Boorman, who guided Biles from age 7 through the Rio Games, tweeted on Sunday, “When @Simone_Biles won her first World’s AA title, my co-coach was worried that she had peaked too early for Rio. My response was “maybe she will become the greatest of all time”. So proud of you today (and all days) Simone!”

It’s well-documented that Biles came back stronger off that well-deserved break. She’s introduced new skills on the balance beam, floor exercise and vault, yet decided she needed neither eponymous beam nor vault skill, which carry more difficulty points, in this weekend’s event finals.

“This is probably my best worlds performance I’ve ever put out,” she said.

The motivation and drive are still there, too. In winning the beam Sunday, Biles leaped out of her chair when she saw that her score eclipsed 15 points. Biles is determined to perform a strong beam routine in Tokyo, given she grabbed the apparatus to keep from falling in the Rio Olympic final and dropped to bronze.

Biles has little to say when asked about the significance of 25 world medals. What’s more important to her than all of them, which are kept in a safe, and the daily records are the skills she’s introduced that are named after her in the Code of Points.

“When you’ve had so much success in the sport, what brings you back in the gym is something original, different stuff. It’s not just winning,” said Laurent Landi, who with wife Cecile has coached Biles since she returned to the gym in November 2017. “When they [gymnasts] get older, and when they achieve as much as she did, this is a great way to motivate her to come back in the gym.”

The family and coaches will fly back to Texas soon. Biles expects her mom to throw her usual post-worlds party. It has included a DJ and bartender in the past. Now 22, Biles can enjoy all of it. And maybe find time to put the last six years in perspective.

“Everybody has to end it some time,” she said, looking ahead. “You can’t keep going for the rest of your life. I feel like I just want gymnastics to be part of my life, not my whole, entire life.”

In Sunday’s finals, Biles was joined on the floor podium by teammate Sunisa Lee. Lee, a 16-year-old at her first worlds, took silver to follow her uneven bars bronze on Saturday. She’s been the second-best U.S. gymnast behind Biles this year, a breakout after she was third at junior nationals in 2018.

In men’s events, Sam Mikulak finished fifth on the high bar, which was won by Brazilian Arthur Nory. The U.S. men failed to earn a medal at a worlds for the first time since 2009. China failed to earn a men’s or women’s gold for the first time since 1993.

Russians Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan went one-two on vault, just as they did in Friday’s all-around. Nagornyy, the new star of men’s gymnastics to succeed Japanese Kohei Uchimura, earned his third gold of the meet.

Joe Fraser became the second British man to earn gold this week (Max Whitlock), taking a parallel bars final that lacked the usual suspects. Japanese Kazuma Kaya earned bronze, ensuring the 2020 Olympic host nation does not leave worlds without an individual medal for the first time since 2001.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 44-year-old gymnast qualifies for eighth Olympics

Nikita Nagornyy wins gymnastics world all-around; Sam Mikulak misses medal

Leave a comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Russia is dominating men’s gymnastics like no other time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s bringing swagger back, too.

“It’s just a different time, get used to it,” Nikita Nagornyy said after leading a Russian one-two in the world championships all-around final on Friday, two days after Russia won its first world team title since the Soviet era. He planned to celebrate with a cup of coffee and pasta bolognese.

Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan, the gold and silver medalists, represent a new, victorious time for the Russian program. They are young, 22 and 23, They are tattooed. Nagornyy is married to fellow Olympic medalist Daria Spiridonova. Dalaloyan is engaged with a daughter.

“I don’t have any more emotions because we put all of them into the team competition,” Nagornyy said after winning the all-around by 1.607 points over Dalaloyan, the 2018 World all-around champion who nearly sat down his vault.

Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev, who missed gold in Rio by .099, took bronze after seeing 2017 World champ Xiao Ruoteng of China and American Sam Mikulak drop in the standings.

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results

Mikulak was seventh, again seeing medal hopes dashed by a critical late mistake, coming off the pommel horse. He was 1.282 points out of a medal after incurring that point penalty for falling on a skill he believed he needed to contend.

It was kind of just rolling the dice a little bit,” said Mikulak, who has finished fifth, sixth and seventh (twice) in Olympic or world all-arounds, but never made the medal stand. “If [it] had been the perfect skill, I would have been second or third.”

Mikulak, a two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. champion, led at the halfway point and was in fourth place when he came off the horse in the fifth of six rotations. He eked into the final in 27th place in qualifying, where he fell four times.

He left the competition with an award, though, a watch in a box for the Longines Prize for Elegance. However, if Mikulak does not earn a medal in Sunday’s high bar final, it will mark the first Olympics or world championships that the U.S. failed to make a men’s event podium since 2009.

Nagornyy will like this statistic going into the Tokyo Games: The last four men to win the world all-around title the year before the Olympics went on to win the Olympic title: Paul HammYang Wei and Kohei Uchimura twice.

Uchimura, the Japanese legend with a record six world all-around titles, is absent from a worlds for the first time since 2007, missing the Japanese team while injured. He is questionable to make the Olympic team despite being one of Japan’s most recognizable athletes.

This is the first year China and Japan were shut out of the team and all-around gold medals at an Olympics or worlds since 1992.

Japan’s results the last two years have been especially concerning a year before it hosts the Olympics — bronze in the team event and a top finish of sixth in the all-around, its worst collective results since 2001.

Nagornyy, though young, saw that Japanese dominance up close at the Rio Games. He has the date of the Rio Olympic team final tattooed in Roman numerals on the inside of his left forearm, celebrating Russia’s first Olympic team medal since 2000 (a silver).

He has another tattoo on his ribs, “salvame y guardame,” which roughly translates to “save and protect me” in Spanish and is a common Russian Orthodox phrase.

Will he get another to commemorate these last two gold medals, or perhaps one in Tokyo?

“I will think about it,” he said. “We should not say anything in advance. We just need to work, and our work will show if it is possible or not.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM WORLDS: Women’s Finals Qualifiers | Men’s Finals Qualifiers

Russia wins first men’s gymnastics world team title since Soviet breakup

1 Comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Russia earned its first world men’s gymnastics team title since the breakup of the Soviet Union, while the U.S. just missed the podium to extend its longest global medal drought this millennium.

Russia overtook China, the top men’s gymnastics nation of the last 20 years, on the final rotation and ended up winning by a comfortable .997. Japan took bronze, followed by the U.S. and Great Britain in a repeat of places three through five from 2018.

The Chinese led by 1.394 points going to the last rotation on high bar, but Sun Wei fell on the first routine. Russia seized the opening, moving ahead by .506 after its first of three gymnasts performed.

A year ago, a mistake from Russian leader Nikita Nagornyy on the very last routine on high bar handed China the title by .049, the smallest winning margin in an Olympic men’s or women’s team final since the perfect-10 scoring system was replaced in 2006. On Wednesday, Nagornyy closed it out with a stuck high bar finale.

Russia’s last Olympic title came in 1996, when it boasted the likes of future Olympic all-around champion Alexei Nemov and future world all-around champion Nikolai Kryukov. Its last world title came in 1991, when its roster included Nastia Liukin‘s father, Valeri, and Vitaly Scherbo, a Belarusian who went on to win six golds at the 1992 Olympics.

Here, Russia has similar star power: Nagornyy, who qualified first into Friday’s all-around, and the defending all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan.

“For a whole year I couldn’t sleep soundly because I didn’t have that medal. A year ago we let it go with our errors when we were competing with the Chinese,” Dalaloyan said, according to an Associated Press translation, after embracing the Chinese team, including Sun, who was in tears and hiding his face in his jacket.

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results

The U.S. extended its longest span without an Olympic or world team medal since a 17-year break from the 1984 Olympics to 2001 World Championships. The Americans’ last medal was a bronze in 2014.

The Americans were not expected to make the podium after struggling to a seventh-place finish in qualifying. Russia, China and Japan have been in a class of their own in this Olympic cycle.

The U.S. had no falls in a team final for the first time since 2015 but were still a considerable 3.581 points out of bronze.

“We performed to our expectations,” two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak said. “We didn’t really think we had the start value [degree of difficulty] to get into that medal podium spot.”

The U.S. must hope to benefit from the change from a five-person team to a four-person team in Tokyo.

It relies largely on Mikulak, who has the ability to challenge the world’s best when he hits. His all-around score Wednesday — 86.931 — would have placed second in the qualification round.

Mikulak fell four times in qualifying, scored 81.598, and thought he would miss Friday’s 24-man all-around final. He stopped watching the final nations compete and began playing Roomscape on his computer. Teammate Akash Modi informed him that he made the final in the last spot on a tiebreaker. Scores reset for finals.

“I was sweating real hard,” he said. “The gym gods were looking out for me.”

The other U.S. men — Yul Moldauer, Trevor HowardShane Wiskus and Modi — have no Olympic experience and a fraction of Mikulak’s accolades.

If as few as two Americans can step up in difficulty and consistency in the next 10 months, the U.S. could return to the medal-challenging status it had in the last four Olympic cycles.

“It will be difficult for us to jump up enough to be in that same realm,” U.S. head coach Mark Williams said. “We have to sort of rely on some other teams to have problems, which isn’t a great strategy, but it’s also better than feeling like you don’t get to the finals.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM WORLDS: Women’s Finals Qualifiers | Men’s Finals Qualifiers