GYMNASTICS

Biles is female athlete of year

They're called "Simone Things," a catchall phrase for the casual ease with which Simone Biles seems to soar through her sport and her life.



The irony, of course, is that there's nothing casual or easy about it. Any of it. The greatest gymnast of all time and 2019 Associated Press female athlete of the year only makes it seem that way.

Those jaw-dropping routines that are rewriting her sport's code of points and redefining what can be done on the competition floor? Born from a mix of natural talent, hard work and a splash of ego.

The 25 world championship medals, the most by any gymnast ever? The result of a promise the 22-year-old made to herself when she returned to competition in 2017 after taking time off following her golden run at the 2016 Olympics.

The stoicism and grace she has shown in becoming an advocate for survivors - herself included - and an agent for change in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal that's shaken USA Gymnastics to its core? The byproduct of a conscious decision to embrace the immense clout she carries.

"I realize now with the platform I have it will be powerful if I speak up and speak for what I believe in," Biles told the Associated Press. "It's an honor to speak for those that are less fortunate. So if I can be a voice for them in a positive manner, then of course I'm going to do whatever I can."

And it's that mission - combined with her otherworldly skill and boundless charisma - that's enabled Biles to keep gymnastics in the spotlight, a rarity for a sport that typically retreats into the background once the Olympic flame goes out. She is the first gymnast to be named AP female athlete of the year twice and the first to do it in a non-Olympic year.

Biles edged U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers. Skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin placed third, with WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne fourth. Biles captured the award in 2016 following a show stopping performance at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she won five medals in all, four of them gold.

FOOTBALL

Penn State hires Minnesota OC

ARLINGTON, Texas — Penn State has hired Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, after he held the same role for Big Ten foe Minnesota for the past three seasons.

Ciarrocca replaces Ricky Rahne, who was named head coach at Old Dominion earlier this month. Penn State coach James Franklin, whose team plays Memphis in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, made the announcement on Thursday.

Franklin said he wanted an established play-caller, and also believes strongly in "hiring people that want to be here, and Kirk really wanted to be here. ... He's fired up about being here."

Ciarrocca grew up as a Nittany Lions fan in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, and has deep ties to the state. He has spent the majority of his 30-year coaching career in the Mid-Atlantic region. Ciarrocca joined coach P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan in 2013 and followed Fleck to Minnesota in 2017.

The Gophers, who beat Penn State 31-26 on Nov. 9, enjoyed a breakout season behind Ciarrocca's play-calling and the development of quarterback Tanner Morgan.

Eason to leave early for draft

SEATTLE — Washington quarterback Jacob Eason announced Thursday that he will skip his final year of college and enter the NFL draft.

Eason started 13 games for Washington this season after beginning his college career at Georgia and transferring following his sophomore season. He threw for 3,132 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Huskies in a season when at times he looked like a sure first-round pick and at other times it appeared that another season of college would help his draft status.

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