Biles electrifies on opening night of nationals

Biles electrifies on opening night of nationals

BOSTON — Simone Biles hardly looks like someone who took two years off.

The reigning Olympic gymnastics champion put on a show during the opening night of the U.S. Championships on Friday, stringing together one electric performance after the other to give herself a commanding lead over world champion Morgan Hurd. Biles posted a score of 60.100, well clear of Hurd for the top all-around score in the world this year.

Biles returned to competition at the U.S. Classic two weeks ago and won easily even with a handful of small errors she promised she could clean up in time for nationals. Though she wasn’t quite perfect — going out of bounds twice during her floor routine — she left little doubt she remains in a class by herself. And it’s not close.

Even with the miscues on floor — both the result of Biles briefly being unable to control her considerable power — the 21-year-old’s score of 14.650 was tops in the event where she won one of her four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics. Biles also put up the top scores on balance beam (15.2), vault (15.6) and uneven bars (14.850).

And she did it while working in an upgrade or two. Biles did just one vault at the U.S. Classic but added an Amanar for nationals. She drilled it with ease, seemingly falling out of the sky while finishing her 2Æ twists, turning the competition very much into what it was during the run-up to the 2016 Olympics, when there was the Biles division and there was everyone else.

Hurd did her best to keep Biles at least within eyesight. The 17-year-old missed out on a chance to make a real run at Biles two weeks ago when she fell off the beam. There were no major mistakes this time around. She finished in the top five on all four events, looking like someone who has taken a significant step forward over the past 10 months.

Riley McCusker is third, followed by Grace McCallum and Trinity Thomas. Defending national champion Ragan Smith, battling foot injuries, struggled. The 2016 Olympic alternate is tied for ninth after putting up a 53.750, well below her all-around scores at the 2017 championships when she easily rolled to victory.

Biles was just beginning the early stages of her return last August. She got serious about competing last fall and now nine months later appears to be even better than she was when she dominated the 2016 Olympics.

Mount Puckmore: Four players who define each Pacific team

Mount Puckmore: Four players who define each Pacific team

When you look at Mount Rushmore, the four American presidents staring back were selected by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to define the first 130 years of American history. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson shared an era, Abraham Lincoln defined his and Theodore Roosevelt was a symbol of expansion and development of the nation that the others had built.

Lingering in the shadows of that mountain is context. The battle scars, the sins, the regretful parts of our history. That is represented in those craggy faces, too, although not observably. But look hard enough, and you see it: the good, the bad, the entirety of the story that defines that portion of American history.

In constructing a “Mount Puckmore” for all 31 NHL franchises, creating the full view of the teams’ histories was paramount. It’s not enough to just pick the four top statistical leaders and slap them on a mountainside. It’s about selecting four players who define the team’s history, through different eras and ebbs and flows of success. Celebrating what went right in some cases, and recalling what went wrong in others.

A few parameters we established:

  • This is just for players. Coaches and general managers are listed separately for each team.

  • Players’ contributions during their time with the team are what we’ve taken into account, rather than their career as a whole. Just because Wayne Gretzky and Martin Brodeur played for the Blues for a minute doesn’t mean they make Mount Puckmore for St. Louis. However, some players made the cut for multiple teams.

  • There are no positional requirements. In some cases, teams won’t have a goalie on the mountain. In other cases, they’ll have more than one.

  • Many of these picks were made by the editorial staff, but in more than a dozen cases, we’ve reached out to fans on background to pick their brains about specific teams.

  • Again, we’re looking for players synonymous with their teams, ones who define specific eras for the franchises and without whom the total picture of that organization’s story can’t be properly framed.

With that in mind, please collect your ropes, grappling hooks and climbing shoes, as we’re about to scale 31 different versions of Mount Puckmore in the NHL. We close out our series with a look at the four players that defined each team in the Pacific Division:

Ryan Getzlaf, C (2005-present)
Paul Kariya, LW (1994-2002)
Scott Niedermayer, D (2005-10)
Teemu Selanne, RW (1996-2001; 2005-14)

Potential replacements: Francois Beauchemin, D (2005-09; 2011-15; 2017-18); Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G (2000-09); Guy Hebert, G (1993-2001); Corey Perry, RW (2005-present); Steve Rucchin, C (1994-2004); Ruslan Salei, D (1996-2006)

Puckmore coach: Randy Carlyle (2005-12, 2016-present)

Puckmore GM: Brian Burke (2005-08)

Selanne is the absolute lock, as a Hall of Famer who spanned the Mighty Ducks-to-Ducks eras and who leads the franchise in games (966), goals (457) and points (988). Kariya, his partner is crime, was the Ducks’ first homegrown superstar and arguably still the most popular player in franchise history. Niedermayer was there for only 371 games, but was the Conn Smythe-winning last piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle for Anaheim. Getzlaf is the current franchise standard-bearer, and its all-time leader in assists (628) and plus-minus (165).

It’s difficult to leave Giguere off this list, given the run he had in 2003 that helped define the franchise before it actually won the chalice. But honestly, who would you have chiseled off the mountain to put him there?

Shane Doan, RW (1995-2017)
Dale Hawerchuk, C (1981-90)
Teppo Numminen, D (1988-2003)
Keith Tkachuk, LW (1991-2001)

Potential replacements: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (2010-present); Nikolai Khabibulin, G (1994-99); Jeremy Roenick, C (1996-2001); Mike Smith, G (2011-17); Thomas Steen, C (1981-95); Teemu Selanne, RW (1992-96)

Puckmore coach: Dave Tippett (2009-17)

Puckmore GM: John Ferguson Sr. (1978-88)

This was a tough balancing act, as this Mount Puckmore needed to honor the O.G. Jets (11 playoff appearances in 17 years) and the Coyotes (three playoff appearances since 2002). While the easy answer would have been “just link the old Jets with the new Jets, dummy” that obviously doesn’t work when the Coyotes have honored former Winnipeg players as part of their past. It’s also, like, really super mean to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Anyhow, Doan is the career franchise leader in basically everything. Though he never played in Arizona, Hawerchuk was the Jets’ biggest star for a decade and a Hall of Famer. Numminen spanned the two cities and is second to Doan in games played (1,098). Tkachuk also played for the Jets and Coyotes, amassing 323 goals and looked rather incredible in that peyote-inspired Coyotes jersey back in the 1990s. Finally, there’s Selanne, whose time with the franchise was brief, but whose 76 goals as a rookie is a record unlikely to be broken; overall, he scored 0.64 goals per game and 1.33 points per game as a Jet.

Theo Fleury, RW (1988-99)
Jarome Iginla, RW (1996-2013)
Al MacInnis, D (1981-94)
Mike Vernon, G (1982-94)

Potential replacements: Mark Giordano, D (2005-present); Miikka Kiprusoff, G (2003-13); Lanny McDonald, RW (1981-89); Joe Nieuwendyk, C (1986-95); Kent Nilsson, C (1980-85); Gary Roberts, LW (1986-96); Gary Suter, D (1985-94)

Puckmore coach: Terry Crisp (1987-90)

Puckmore GM: Cliff Fletcher (1972-91)

The recently retired Iginla, the immensely popular Fleury and the all-around greatness (and monster shot) of MacInnis were the locks here.

It’s that fourth spot that was a bit of a conundrum, if only because Vernon, Kiprusoff and McDonald’s mustache could all lay claim to it. In the end, we’ll take Vernon’s Cup victory over Kipper’s Vezina, with McDonald missing by a considerable whisker.

Wayne Gretzky, C (1979-88)
Jari Kurri, RW (1980-90)
Mark Messier, C (1979-91)
Connor McDavid, C (2015-present)

Potential replacements: Glenn Anderson, RW (1980-91; 1995-96); Paul Coffey, D (1980-87); Grant Fuhr, G (1981-91); Kevin Lowe, D (1979-92); Ryan Smyth (1994-2006; 2011-14)

Puckmore coach: Glen Sather (1980-94)

Puckmore GM: Glen Sather (1980-2000)

Messier’s legacy in the sport was cemented when he brought the Stanley Cup back to Madison Square Garden for the first time in 54 years, but we’ve honestly always been just as in awe of his achievement in 1990. That’s when the Oilers, in their second season following the Gretzky trade, won their first Stanley Cup without The Great One on the roster, one year after losing to Gretzky’s Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Messier had 129 points in the regular season and 31 more in the postseason. Just astounding.

Gretzky, of course, leads the franchise in goals, assists, points and with a points per game average of 2.40(!) in his Oilers career. The next honored member of the dynasty years could have been any number of players — Lowe came closest — but Kurri’s numbers and unique ability to hang with Gretzky earned him the nod.

As for McDavid, you might gaze upon his stone visage on Mount Puckmore and cry out “too soon!” But then ask yourself how a player who instantly gave the franchise gravitas and direction just by putting on their jersey doesn’t then define it in some way — especially when that player already has two scoring titles and two player of the year awards to his credit.

Marcel Dionne, C (1975-87)
Drew Doughty, D (2008-present)
Wayne Gretzky, C (1988-96)
Luc Robitaille, LW (1986-94)

Potential replacements: Rob Blake, D (1989-2001); Dustin Brown, RW (2003-present); Anze Kopitar, C (2006-present); Bernie Nicholls, C (1981-90); Jonathan Quick, G (2007-present); Dave Taylor, RW (1977-94); Rogie Vachon, G (1971-78)

Puckmore coach: Darryl Sutter (2012-17)

Puckmore GM: Dean Lombardi (2006-17)

This Gretzky fellow made an impact in his 539 games in Hollywood, leading the Kings in points per game (1.70), finishing fourth in overall points (918) and convincing Sean Penn and Sylvester Stallone to attend Kings games. Also, as the ultimate cliché goes, there wouldn’t be Mount Puckmores for any teams in nontraditional U.S. cities were it not for Gretzky — because they wouldn’t exist.

The Kings, however, predated Gretzky, with Dionne having amassed 1,307 points in just 921 games and Lucky Luc leading the franchise with 557 goals before literally leading the franchise as team president years later. Doughty gets the nod as the modern era representative for the Kings’ Stanley Cup wins over the past decade.

Patrick Marleau, C (1997-2017)
Evgeni Nabokov, G (1999-2010)
Owen Nolan, RW (1995-2002)
Joe Thornton, C (2005-present)

Potential replacements: Brent Burns, D (2011-present); Logan Couture, C (2009-present); Arturs Irbe, G (1991-96); Joe Pavelski, C (2006-present) Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D (2006-present)

Puckmore coach: Todd McLellan (2008-15)

Puckmore GM: Doug Wilson (2003-present)

This Mount Puckmore was built around Marleau and Thornton, the two pillars of the Sharks for over a decade. But while a few members of the team’s current incarnation warrant consideration, we’ll dedicate the final two spots to Nolan, the team’s first true star, and Nabokov, who is statistically the best goalie in franchise history even if he could never scale the peaks of the playoffs.

Pavel Bure, RW (1991-98)
Trevor Linden, RW (1988-97, 2001-08)
Henrik Sedin, C (2000-18)
Stan Smyl, RW (1978-91)

Potential replacements: Roberto Luongo, G (2006-14); Kirk McLean, G (1987-98); Markus Naslund, LW (1995-2008); Daniel Sedin, RW (2000-18); Harold Snepsts, D (1974-84)

Puckmore coach: Pat Quinn (1991-96)

Puckmore GM: Pat Quinn (1987-97)

Linden and Bure are stone-cold locks for the mountain. Smyl represents the “Flying V” years (and remains the fifth-leading scorer in franchise history). Those three belong on any monument to the Canucks, which left us one spot … for two twins.

Now, we could just put Henrik and Daniel on the mountain as some sort of two-headed mutant, as including them as one entity makes total sense. (cc: Hockey Hall of Fame.) Or, we could all just admit that Henrik was a slightly better player, the best center in franchise history and therefore the proxy for both twins on this mountain.

Deryk Engelland, D (2017-present)
Marc-Andre Fleury, G (2017-present)
William Karlsson, C (2017-present)
Jonathan Marchessault, C (2017-present)

Potential replacements: David Perron, LW (2017-18); James Neal, RW (2017-18); Nate Schmidt, D (2017-present)

Puckmore coach: Gerard Gallant (2017-present)

Puckmore GM: George McPhee (2017-present)

Look, when we said “for all 31 teams” we meant “for all 31 teams.” Honestly, there’s a little debate to be had here after Fleury and Karlsson. Is Marchessault redundant? Should Neal have made the list as the biggest name veteran forward? What about a fourth-line folk hero like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare?

In the end, we like these four as the faces of the franchise after Year 1. Just make sure Flower’s got a smile chiseled on his face.

Follow live: Dak Prescott and Cowboys take on Bengals

Follow live: Dak Prescott and Cowboys take on Bengals

Notable inactive tonight are WR Cody Core, who hasn’t practiced the last few days, LB Vontaze Burfict, who left practice earlier in the week with an apparent ankle injury and hasn’t returned, and LB Vinny Rey, who sprained his ankle in last week’s game. Tyler Eifert isn’t on this list but is unlikely to play. This doesn’t help Core’s chances to make the team.

Katherine Terrell, ESPN Staff Writer2h ago

Follow live: Raiders and Rams clash at the Coliseum

Follow live: Raiders and Rams clash at the Coliseum

It’s unlikely Sean McVay will play starters Saturday in a Week 2 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, which means backup quarterback Sean Mannion should have plenty of opportunity to redeem himself after a poor performance in Week 1. McVay said he’d look for “crisp execution” from the fourth-year pro. “Sean would be the first to tell you he should play better, but I think there were a lot of things that went into it,” McVay said Thursday after the final training camp practice at UC Irvine. “Myself, obviously, some of the guys catching the football, protecting up front. So I just think you want to see more sharp, crisp execution, doing a good job recognizing what they’re doing and then just being able to play sound football.”

Lindsey Thiry, ESPN2d ago

Follow live: Cousins, Vikings host Jaguars

Follow live: Cousins, Vikings host Jaguars

Vikings O-line in front of Kirk Cousins is Reiff, Compton, Edison, Isidora, Collins. Remember, it took the Vikings the entire preseason last year to settle on their starting five at cut day, so it’s not surprising that Brian O’Neill is not starting today in place of Rashod Hill. Mike Zimmer tried out a handful of combinations before settling on Reiff, Easton, Elflein, Berger, Remmers last year.

Courtney Cronin, ESPN Staff Writer13m ago

Breaking down the Bristol starting lineup

Breaking down the Bristol starting lineup

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Larson doesn’t feel he has to win in the next three races to carry momentum into the NASCAR Cup series playoffs.

He sits 10th in the standings and has a 42-point edge on the next driver (Aric Almirola) on the playoff grid. Even three upsets during the next three races wouldn’t knock Larson out of the playoffs unless he loses that lead over Almirola.

Larson starts from the pole Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway and probably doesn’t see that happening.

“It’s always important to win,” Larson said. “Obviously, it’s not a must to win. We’re basically locked in the playoffs. … I also view Bristol as being my best opportunity to get some playoff points.

“I feel like we can win both stages and win the race, not easily, but this is our best shot. Five to seven [playoff] points would be huge.”

By winning the pole, Larson will have the best pit stall, something that Chase Elliott, starting second, said is a huge advantage.

“Our car always has been fast here and I have a lot of confidence,” Larson said. “I’ve proven that I have a lot of speed here. I’ve still yet to get that win.

“If we can just have a nice, clean day, we can definitely have a solid run.”

Larson doesn’t have any playoff points to help cushion any hiccups in the playoffs.

“Of everybody that’s in the playoffs, I’m the only one that doesn’t have any playoff points,” Larson said. “That part is a little frustrating but makes you a little more nervous when it comes to the playoffs.”

Actually, three drivers — Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman — don’t have playoff points, but you get the point.

While he feels his cars drive OK, Larson said he seems to struggle at the tracks that frustrated him in his first couple of years of Cup racing. Last year, he felt they were strong everywhere.

But even at Michigan last week, he said he was running some of the top lap times but a loose wheel in the second run of the race and later contact with another car mired him in traffic. So a potential good day made it look like he struggled the entire afternoon.

“I feel like we’re not that bad, but we have had a little bit of bad luck that cost us finishes where we deserve the last few weeks,” Larson said.

Also last week, the speculation increased on whether Jamie McMurray would return next year. Larson has never let any team chatter influence him.

“I’m focused on this season and what we’re doing trying to make a run for the championship,” Larson said. “At the same time, it’s our team and teammate. In a way, it does affect us for the future. But as far as this year goes, it doesn’t affect myself or our team.”

Here is the breakdown of the lineup for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race:

1. Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet): He led 200 laps but finished second behind Kyle Busch in April. He also led 202 laps in the April 2017 race.

2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet): Elliott enjoyed a strong first Cup race at Bristol as he finished fourth. Since then? Just one top-10.

3. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota): Busch owns 21 wins at Bristol, seven in Cup, nine in Xfinity and five in truck. He has won the last two Cup races at Bristol — he had wrecked out of each of the previous three.

4. Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford): He seeks his first Bristol top-10 since August 2014.

5. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet): Byron was 18th in his first Cup race at Bristol in April.

6. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford): Harvick and Matt Kenseth are the only two at-least-40-year-old drivers in the last 20 years to record seven wins in a season.

7. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota): Hamlin has finished third in each of the last three August races at Bristol. So do you pick him to finish third or avoid third at all costs?

8. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford): Sixth at Bristol in April, Almirola hopes this is a time where team can build on notes from earlier in the year.

9. Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford): Busch won three straight at Bristol in 2003-04 and five of nine races from 2002-2006 but he has just two top-5s in his last seven Bristol starts.

10. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford): Blaney has started in the top-10 in his last four races at Bristol but finished in the top-10 only once.

11. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford): Keselowski surprisingly is looking for his first win of the season. He loves Bristol, but it hasn’t loved him back recently with no finish better than 18th in his last five starts.

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford): Why does Stenhouse consider this his best opportunity to win? His average finish at Bristol is 10.2, his best of any track, and his four top-5s ties his best at any track (Talladega being the other).

13. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet): Johnson has an average finish of 18.6 and just one top-10 in the nine races leading into Bristol. The good news? He has an average finish of 8.2 in his last nine Bristol starts.

14. Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota): A year ago, he led 260 laps and finished second. Expect him to be stout Saturday night.

15. David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford): He’s been solid at Bristol in recent trips. He has back-to-back top-20s (17th and 12th) at Bristol.

16. Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford): He has a 31st and a 19th in his last two August races at Bristol but a second and an eighth in his last two April races.

17. Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota): Truex has just one top-10 finish in his last 12 starts at Bristol. His average finish in those races? 22.3.

18. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): A strong top-5 last week at Michigan was a big boost to this team. It is finding speed.

19. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford): Logano won the 2014 and 2015 August races at Bristol. Until this qualifying result, it wouldn’t have been surprising if he added a third win.

20. Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet): Time is running out for McMurray to make the playoffs. He hasn’t led a lap at Bristol in his last seven starts.

21. Daniel Suarez (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota): He has finished second twice in Xfinity at Bristol but seeks his first top-10 in a Cup car at the track.

22. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet): He was fifth in April, showing that he could perform well in this ride.

23. Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford): Bayne enjoys racing in his home state, and this could be his last chance in a decent car. He was seventh in this race a year ago.

24. Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet): Newman has back-to-back top-10s at Bristol and top-10s in five of his last seven Bristol starts.

25. AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet): he finished ninth in this race two years ago but hasn’t finished better than 17th in last three Bristol starts.

26. Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevrolet): Kahne doesn’t have a top-10 at Bristol in his last eight starts. He probably won’t miss this place much if he never returns.

27. Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet): He led six laps — the first laps he had led in a Cup car — and finished 16th in April.

28. Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Chevrolet): Buescher has failed to finish two of the last three Cup races at Bristol.

29. Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford): One of his career highlights was a sixth at Bristol in April 2016.

30. Corey LaJoie (TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet): LaJoie has finishes of 24th, 28th and 25th at Bristol.

31. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford): McDowell started ninth in April and had so much hope but ended up in a crash just nine laps into the race and finished 38th. Surprising that McDowell struggled so much in qualifying Friday.

32. Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet): Dillon has struggled in a Cup car at Bristol, with just one top-20 finish in four starts.

33. Jesse Little (Gaunt Brothers Racing No. 96 Toyota): Little has two career truck starts at Bristol, including a 13th-place finish.

34. J.J. Yeley (Premium Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet): It will be a long day at Bristol as Yeley tries to earn a top-30 finish.

35. Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet): As he fights for a spot in the Xfinity playoffs, he’s enjoying the extra track time that Cup provides.

36. Reed Sorenson (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet): Sorenson making his 10th start this year but first under Rick Ware Racing banner.

37. Timmy Hill (Carl Long Motorsports No. 66 Toyota): Hill probably just hopes he doesn’t lose a battery this week. Ty Dillon hopes that, too.

38. Gray Gaulding (StarCom Racing No. 99 Chevrolet): Gaulding got this car in the show. Team manager Derrike Cope will drive it in two weeks at Darlington.

39. Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet): He was 20th at Bristol in April; another top-20 isn’t out of the question.

40. Blake Jones (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota): The BK Racing employees are bracing for this to be their last weekend with the sale of the team expected next week.

Did Not Qualify: B.J. McLeod (Rick Ware Racing No. 52 Chevrolet)