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Biles, Ross lead for US in worlds qualifying

October 2, 2013

ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Without the defending champion or its Olympic gold medalist, the United States is still dominating all-around qualifying at the world gymnastics championships.

In the absence of Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas, a couple of 16-year-olds are setting up the U.S. team for a spectacular final weekend at the Antwerp Sports Palace.

U.S. champion Simone Biles used superb floor and vault exercises to sweep past Kyla Ross Wednesday and clinch a 1-2 finish for Friday’s all-around final.

Biles was the only gymnast to break the 60-point mark with 60.133, leaving overnight leader Ross well behind with 59.198 in second place overall. Yao Jinnan of China was in third position with 57.965.

“She did an excellent job. She handled her temper and was aggressive,” U.S. coach Martha Karolyi said of Biles. “She even can do a better job.”

In first place for the all-around, Biles also qualified for all four apparatus finals — floor, balance beam, uneven bars and vault — the first woman U.S. gymnast to do so since Shannon Miller in 1991.

Even though the top 24 go through and all start from scratch in the all-around, the wobbly performance of 2010 champion and title favorite Aliya Mustafina drew much attention as the Russian finished nearly three points behind Biles with 57.165.

The women’s all-around final is set for Friday, one day after Japan’s Kohei Uchimura is seeking to become the first four-time all-around world champion in the sport.

In a U.S. battle of teenagers competing in their first world championship, Biles finished ahead of Ross, but together they proved the strength in depth the U.S. team has early in the new Olympic cycle ahead of the 2016 Rio Games.

And for showing few nerves in their first world championships, look for veteran coach Karolyi, long known for her tough handling of recruits to prime them for the top. Biles said no one could intimidate her at the Antwerp Sports Palace because “Martha scares me more than the judges.”

Karolyi should certainly scare her more than Mustafina. The Russian wobbled her way through the opening balance beam exercise and followed it up with clumsy fall on the opening series of tumbles of the floor exercise in another listless performance.

The indignity was complete when she landed on her backside on her second vault, slapping her hand into the mat in frustration. She was through to the final so it left only her confidence and reputation badly bruised after Wednesday’s performance.

The U.S. team came into Antwerp without defending champion Wieber and Olympic gold medalist Douglas but still will be favored to at least medal on Friday.

It was almost a luxury to have three U.S. gymnasts fighting for only two available places per nation in the final. McKayla Maroney stood in provisional sixth place but won’t make Friday’s final behind Biles and Ross.

There should be plenty of Americans in the apparatus finals too. Maroney topped Biles in the standings of the vault and should at least make that weekend final.

Biles was outstanding on the floor too, letting her stocky muscles do the work on leaps and tumbles while her personality took over on the dance elements. She was joined by Ross there too.

In all, the United States takes a maximum eight slots in the apparatus finals on top of the maximum two in the all-around.

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