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Simone Biles halfway to fourth straight U.S. all-around title

Simone Biles earns the best floor exercise score of the night, a 16.100, at the P&G Championships.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — When U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi met with Simone Biles to map out the three-time world gymnastics champion’s schedule, one designed to keep Biles fresh heading into the Olympics, it was the equivalent of pulling up to an intersection in a Ferrari and letting it idle when the light turned green.

“The plan was to (not) burn her out,” Karolyi said.

Done. Way done.

When Biles stepped onto the floor at the U.S. championships Friday night, it marked just her second all-around competition in eight months. Yet there was no rust. There never seems to be for Biles, whose three-year reign seems poised to continue unabated through the biggest summer of her life and beyond.

Turning each rotation into a showcase for her unmatched talent, Biles posted an eye-popping score of 62.900, well clear of runners up Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez and everybody else on the planet.

“It’s all about peaking for the right moment,” Biles said. “I think this is a stepping stone toward it.”

The gap the 19-year-old Texan has created between herself and the rest of the world during a winning streak that’s nearly three years and counting shows no signs of closing. If anything, it’s widening considering her nearest competitors are the four women who will join her on the plane to Brazil in August.

“There’s no one that can catch Simone,” said Raisman after her best night since her return to competition in March, 2015.

Not in the U.S. and certainly not in the rest of the world.

Biles was nearly flawless from the start, her beam routine a 45-second showcase of precision with nary a wobble or even a peak at the floor 4-feet below. Her score of 15.7 is a significant step up from the 15.388 she posted at world championships last fall, an event she won easily. Her floor routine includes a series of hand flourishes that seems as if she’s saying “follow me” and a series of tumbling passes that are the gymnastics version of Michael Jordan at the height of his “airness” prime.

Asked to nitpick her performance and Biles paused. It’s not that she’s perfect — gymnastics doesn’t do perfect anymore — it’s just that she’s as close as anyone has been in a long, long time. While she pointed to nearly imperceptible miscues during her beam dismount and her first vault, even she had to admit there was little else that went wrong.

“I was pretty happy with it,” Biles said.

So was Karolyi, who will have plenty to think about over the next two weeks as she tries to find the right four women to join Biles on the plane to Brazil in August. The one thing that’s not on her mind is the mental state of her star.

“Usually these very talented girls don’t have patience,” Karolyi said. “They’re explosive and full with energy but sometimes they can be annoyed with doing the very same routine.”

Biles hardly looked bored while putting on a show no one else can match. And she wasn’t the only one who looked ready for the stage that awaits in Brazil.

Raisman wanted to “vomit” while starting out on beam, where she won bronze in London four years ago. She didn’t exactly look nervous while putting up a 15.150, something she credited on the poker face she inherited from her father. After beating herself up for months after a poor showing — by her standards anyway — at world championships last fall, Raisman is right back where she was in 2012, maybe even a bit better.
Defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who won the American Cup and in Italy earlier this spring, wasn’t quite as sharp. She wobbled twice on beam and needed a world-class save to stay on at one point. Yet she did to avoid a major deduction, a trait Karolyi welcomes nearly as much as a flawlessly executed routine. Still, her score of 58.9 needs to improve on Sunday (9 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports app) to remove any lingering doubt.

“I just got a little bit relaxed and let things slip,” she said. “I need to stay aggressive. The confidence level is there.”

It’s there too for the 16-year-old Hernandez. A newcomer on the national team, Hernandez hardly seems intimidated by the stakes. She put up scores that ranked in the top three in all four events, giving Karolyi yet another option as she puts together what will be the gymnastics equivalent of a “Dream Team” for Rio.

“I’d love to just have another day like I had today (on Sunday),” Hernandez said.

Madison Kocian, a world champion on uneven bars, put up the second-best score on her signature event and seems to be fully healed from a leg injury that slowed her training after placing in the top six in all four events.

Maggie Nichols, a member of last fall’s gold-medal winning world championship team, finished outside the top five on uneven bars and balance beam in her first competition since tearing the meniscus in her knee in April. Nichols remains upbeat but it appears open spots on the team appear to be dwindling.

Karolyi teased coming into nationals that she already has five women in mind for Rio. That list did not change on Friday, and time is running out.

“The first five are right there,” she said. “The process is going step by step.”

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