Biles fights through kid­ney stone at world cham­pi­onships

Sunday Star - - SPORTS -

DOHA, QATAR (AP) — Si­mone Biles spent a por­tion of the night be­fore her re­turn to world cham­pi­onships in the emer­gency room. The sen­sa­tion she chalked up to the usual pre-meet stress evolved into sear­ing agony that at times left her crawl­ing on the floor.

When a CT scan re­vealed a kid­ney stone — one she nick­named “the Doha Pearl” — the reign­ing Olympic gym­nas­tics cham­pion grabbed her stuff and dis­charged her­self from the hospi­tal, telling the staff she’ll deal with the pain later.

“I heard roller­coast­ers might help kid­ney stones,” Biles said. “And I’m like ‘Well, I’m ba­si­cally like my own lit­tle roller­coaster out there.’”

One that turns each per­for­mance into a thrill ride of its own. Smil­ing through each twist, flip and turn, the 21-year-old Biles was nearly flaw­less dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing on Satur­day, post­ing the high­est scores on bal­ance beam, floor ex­er­cise and vault on her way to a to­tal of 60.965 on a day when the Amer­i­cans put up a team score of 174.429, a stag­ger­ing 12 points clear of sec­ond-place Ja­pan through six of 11 qual­i­fy­ing groups.

“She’s Si­mone,” U.S. high per­for­mance co­or­di­na­tor Tom Forster said. “You’d ex­pect the same out of a Michael Jor­dan or a Tiger Woods and that’s who she is in our sport. And she showed it.”

Even though she didn’t get back to the ho­tel room she shares with team­mate Ri­ley McCusker un­til af­ter 1 a.m. on Satur­day morn­ing. Even af­ter skip­ping the early work­out as a pre­cau­tion. Even though she couldn’t be treated with the same pain med­i­ca­tion typ­i­cally given those deal­ing with kid­ney stones be­cause do­ing so would put her in jeop­ardy of fail­ing a drug test.

No mat­ter. Biles did what she al­ways seems to do when the rest of her sport is watch­ing: She dom­i­nated. Her all-around to­tal marked the high­est in the world since her gold medal-win­ning to­tal at the 2016 Sum­mer Olympics. And still she sees room for im­prove­ment.

Asked what she’d give her­self on a day she com­pleted a vault in com­pe­ti­tion that will end up bear­ing her name the next time the code of points is up­dated, Biles shrugged and said “6 or 7.”

Not bad con­sid­er­ing Biles was ini­tially con­cerned she had ap­pen­dici­tis, which would have forced her to sit out the com­pe­ti­tion en­tirely. In­stead it’s “just” a kid­ney stone, al­beit one Biles be­lieves she won’t be able to pass, mean­ing she’s go­ing to have to deal with it through­out a very busy week that will in­clude team fi­nals, the all-around fi­nal and all four event fi­nals.

Biles be­lieves she’ll be fine. Even if she’s not quite 100 per­cent, the gap be­tween her­self and the rest of the world is so siz­able it might not mat­ter. She fin­ished more than four points ahead of team­mate and 2017 world cham­pion Mor­gan Hurd, whose score of 56.465 edged Ja­pan’s Mai Mu­rakami for sec­ond half­way through qual­i­fy­ing and as­sured Hurd of a spot in the fi­nals.

The pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem played a bell akin to the start of a box­ing match when the U.S. headed to un­even bars. What hap­pened over the next 90 min­utes was the gym­nas­tics ver­sion of a tech­ni­cal knock­out. Hurd led off with a 14.466 that seemed to send a mes­sage that while the faces with the stars-and­stripes leo­tards change, the ex­pec­ta­tions and re­sults do not.

“There’s clearly a lot of pressure there,” Hurd said. “How many world cham­pi­onships has the U.S. won? We have to keep the pedestal.”

Look­ing for a way to give McCusker, Grace McCal­lum and Kara Eaker — each of whom is mak­ing their world cham­pi­onship de­but — a breather be­fore step­ping onto the podium, Forster opted to have Hurd lead off in three of the four events. Forster called the move a “gut feel­ing,” one Hurd ea­gerly ac­cepted.

“It hon­estly makes me a lit­tle less ner­vous be­cause I have less time to get even more anx­ious,” said Hurd, who hardly looked ner­vous while qual­i­fy­ing for event fi­nals on floor ex­er­cise and un­even bars.

McCal­lum com­peted in three of four events, and her 14.6 on vault prob­a­bly earned her a berth in the event fi­nals. Kara Eaker, who turns 16 next month, drilled a 14.466 on bal­ance beam and McCusker over­came a stum­ble on beam that she ad­mit­ted left her “fraz­zled” to fin­ish fifth in the all-around.

McCusker, how­ever, won’t qual­ify for the all-around fi­nals thanks to the rules that limit coun­tries to two ath­letes per event in the in­di­vid­ual com­pe­ti­tion. Still, she’ll be part of the team fi­nal, and ex­tend­ing the U.S. win streak — the Amer­i­cans have won ev­ery ma­jor in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion since the 2011 world cham­pi­onships — has al­ways been the fo­cal point.

“We all have dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties that we can bring to the team,” McCusker said. “We can all shine in dif­fer­ent places.”

Or, in the case of Biles, ev­ery place.

She’s in­tent on push­ing the sport for­ward, and her as­tound­ing open­ing vault — a round­off, half-twist onto the table, front dou­ble full off that has only pre­vi­ously been done in com­pe­ti­tion by men — sent a jolt through the crowd. More im­por­tantly to Biles, the vault will carry her name when it’s added to the code next month.

An­other re­mark­able step in a re­mark­able ca­reer that keeps rolling no mat­ter what her body throws at her.

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