Samir Aït Saïd

French gymnast who broke leg at Rio Olympics qualifies for Tokyo after father’s death

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STUTTGART, Germany — French gymnast Samir Aït Saïd took a moment for himself while he posed for podium photos after the world championships still rings final.

He lifted the bronze medal that was draped around his neck, looked toward the ceiling of the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle and pointed up there. He kissed the medal and lifted it even higher, above his head, and shook it repeatedly.

“I hope he was proud,” he said.

Aït Saïd dedicated the medal, and the tears welling in his eyes during interviews, to his father, who died last winter of lung cancer, according to French team officials.

It wasn’t just the world championships medal, the first of the 29-year-old’s career. Aït Saïd also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by getting on the still rings podium.

He was the very last gymnast to go on Saturday. He knocked reigning Olympic and three-time defending world champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece off the podium and out of Olympic qualification. Petrounias can still qualify for Tokyo via another route next year, but it will not be easy.

Aït Saïd knows all about hardship. He is best known for a horrific scene: fracturing his left tibia and fibula on a vault landing in Rio Olympic qualifying and getting carted away on a stretcher. He also missed the 2012 London Games after sustaining three right tibia fractures at the European Championships, also on vault.

The day after his Rio injury, he said in a video taken at the hospital, “believe me, the Tokyo 2020 adventure is still in the cards. … We’ll go for that Olympic gold.”

Aït Saïd’s father was in the Rio Olympic Arena when he broke his leg. When Aït Saïd vowed to come back for Tokyo, his father promised that he would be there with him.

“Before my father died, I made him a promise that I would go to Tokyo 2020 to get that medal for him,” Aït Saïd said through a translator. “Unfortunately, he won’t have this chance to come to Tokyo to come see me, but I’ve given him my word that I will go get that medal for him. It was his dream, too.”

Fourteen months after Rio, Aït Saïd finished fourth in the world championships still rings final, .008 out of a medal. Even though France failed to qualify a full team for Tokyo, Aït Saïd had multiple paths to clinching an individual Olympic spot.

However, worlds would be his best chance. He needed to make the eight-man still rings final. He did. The way things shook out Saturday, he needed to outscore the last two Olympic still rings champions. He did.

Aït Saïd competed in vault in qualifying here, but he plans to only do rings in Tokyo. That’s the medal he promised his father.

“I need to rest,” he said, “because what is awaiting for me is very, very hard. I’m going to work hard to go get that title at the Olympics.”

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Simone Biles ties world gymnastics championships medal record, leads U.S. one-two

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STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles would lose count of her world gymnastics championships medals if she wasn’t reminded of the number at nearly every interview stop in the mixed zone.

“I never think of medal counts or anything,” she said after winning her record-tying 23rd medal and record-extending 17th gold in the vault final on Saturday, the penultimate day of worlds. “I let everyone else do the counting for me.

“I couldn’t tell you how many I have if you didn’t tell me already.”

Biles was joined on the vault podium by Jade Carey, who earned her second vault silver in three years despite taking a large step out of the central landing area on her second vault.

Biles performed exquisite vaults — a Cheng and an Amanar — with just small hops on each landing. The scores — 15.333 and 15.466 — were the highest of the 16 total vaults performed by the eight women in the final. She chose not to throw her eponymous vault that carries more difficulty.

Later Saturday, Biles finished fifth on uneven bars, her weakest event, with the same score that earned her silver last year. Belgian Nina Derwael repeated as world champ. American Sunisa Lee earned her first individual world medal — a silver.

“I couldn’t be more happy,” Biles said of her day. “I’m not even mad about [bars]. I knew going into today there was a very slim chance that I would even medal.”

Biles can still break her tie with 1990s Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo for the total medals record Sunday on the balance beam or the floor exercise, the last two finals. She is the favorite on both events.

Biles has said she is 99 percent sure these will be her final worlds. That would set up the Tokyo Games to be her final competition.

“I never think, oh, this could be my last,” she said. “I kind of cherish the moment.”

In other events Saturday, French gymnast Samir Ait Said, who gruesomely broke his leg on a Rio Olympic vault landing, qualified for the Tokyo Games by earning the last available spot from the still rings final.

Said, whose father died in February, earned bronze and knocked Greek Olympic still rings champion Eleftherios Petrounias off the podium and out of an automatic Olympic spot. Petrounias can still qualify for the Olympics via another route next year. Turkey’s Ibrahim Colak took gold, his nation’s first world title.

Brit Max Whitlock earned his third world title on pommel horse. Whitlock will go to Tokyo looking to become the first repeat Olympic pommel horse champion in 40 years.

Carlos Yulo became the first Filipino gymnast to win a world title, prevailing on floor by one tenth. Yulo, 19, became the first Filipino medalist when he earned floor bronze last year.

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U.S. adds 2 medals at gymnastics worlds; 42-year-old finishes 5th

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Two rookies added medals for the U.S. at the world gymnastics championships in Montreal on Saturday.

Jade Carey, who was not an elite-level gymnast a year ago, earned silver on vault. Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, a 42-year-old who has competed at a record seven Olympics, finished fifth, missing a medal by one tenth of a point.

All five gold medalists on Saturday were repeat champions from two years ago — Russian Maria Paseka (vault), Japanese Kenzo Shirai (floor exercise), Chinese Fan Yilin (uneven bars), Brit Max Whitlock (pommel horse) and Greek Eleftherios Petrounias (still rings).

The U.S. men wrapped up their worlds with one medal — Yul Moldauer‘s bronze on floor — their lightest medal haul since 2010.

Frenchman Samir Aït Saïd, who horrifically broke his left leg in Rio, missed his first world medal by .008 on rings.

Worlds conclude Sunday with five more apparatus finals (broadcast schedule here). All-around champion Morgan Hurd goes on balance beam and Carey on floor exercise.

No American men qualified for Sunday’s high bar, parallel bars or vault finals.

Women’s Vault
GOLD: Maria Paseka (RUS) — 14.85
SILVER: Jade Carey (USA) — 14.766
BRONZE: Giulia Steingruber (SUI) — 14.466
4. Ellie Black (CAN) — 14.416
5. Oksana Chusovitina (UZB) — 14.366
6. Wang Yan (CHN) — 14.35
7. Shallon Olsen (CAN) — 14.233
8. Sae Miyakawa (JPN) — 13.8

The top three went unchanged from qualifying to final. Paseka is now a repeat world champion after bagging vault silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics. Carey beat Paseka on execution but was behind on difficulty.

Chusovitina, who was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in May, came close to earning her 11th career Olympic or world vault medal and first since 2011.

Men’s Floor Exercise
GOLD: Kenzo Shirai (JPN) — 15.633
SILVER: Artem Dolgopyat (ISR) — 14.533
BRONZE: Yul Moldauer (USA) — 14.5
4. Bram Verhofstad (NED) — 14.333
5. Tomas Gonzalez (CHI) — 14.266
6. Donnell Whittenburg (USA) — 14.166
7. Manrique Larduet (CUB) — 14.1
8. Kim Hansol (KOR) — 14.1
9. Milad Karimi (KAZ) — 13.266

Shirai, the 21-year-old known as the “Twist Prince” for his unmatched aerial moves, became the first man to repeat as world champion on floor since Russian Alexei Nemov in 1999. He finished his routine with his signature move, a quad twist. Shirai, now with three world titles on floor, was shockingly fourth in Rio. None of the Rio medalists were in Saturday’s final.

Moldauer, the 21-year-old U.S. all-around champion, earned a medal at his first worlds with the highest execution score and lowest difficulty. Whittenburg, the Olympic alternate built like a linebacker, struggled with the landings of his first two tumbling passes.

Uneven Bars
GOLD: Fan Yilin (CHN) — 15.166
SILVER: Elena Eremina (RUS) — 15.1
BRONZE: Nina Derwael (BEL) — 15.033
4. Anastasiya Iliyankova (RUS) — 14.9
5. Elisabeth Seitz (GER) — 14.766
6. Diana Varinska (UKR) — 14.583
7. Luo Huan (CHN) — 14.566
8. Ashton Locklear (USA) — 12.766

Fan was the only returning woman from a four-way tie for gold at the 2015 Worlds. Also missing were all three Olympic medalists — Aliya MustafinaMadison Kocian and Sophie Scheder.

Locklear, who battled Kocian for an Olympic spot last year, tearfully came off the high bar. She is the only member of the four-woman U.S. team with worlds experience, having finished fourth on bars in 2014.

Pommel Horse
GOLD: Max Whitlock (GBR) — 15.441

SILVER: David Belyavskiy (RUS) — 15.1
BRONZE: Xiao Ruoteng (CHN) — 15.066
4. Alex Naddour (USA) — 14.75
5. Harutyun Merdinyan (ARM) — 14.7
6. Weng Hao (CHN) — 14.5
7. Oleg Verniaiev (UKR) — 13.7
8. Saso Bertoncelj (SLO) — 12.966

Whitlock, Britain’s only Olympic gymnastics champion, followed his 2015 World and 2016 Olympic gold medals with another title. Whitlock, also the Olympic all-around bronze medalist, has given up competing on all six events to focus on pommels and floor exercise to prolong his career another two Olympics.

The Olympic bronze medalist Naddour hoped to challenge for gold, but he was short on his scissors to handstand. The last American man to earn a world pommel horse medal was Sasha Artemev in 2006 (bronze).

Still Rings
GOLD: Eleftherios Petrounias (GRE) — 15.433

SILVER: Denis Ablyazin (RUS) — 15.333
BRONZE: Liu Yang (CHN) — 15.266

4. Samir Aït Saïd (FRA) — 15.258
5. Ibrahim Colak (TUR) — 15.066
6. Igor Radivilov (UKR) — 14.933
7. Arthur Zanetti (BRA) — 14.9
8. Courtney Tulloch (GBR) — 14.533

Aït Saïd is the story here. Fourteen months after that awful Rio vault qualification injury, the Frenchman was in medal position until Liu knocked him out by .008 on the last routine.

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