Simone Biles wins seventh U.S. title, more than any woman in history
In a career oozing with historic achievements, Simone Biles once again raised the bar when she won the women’s all-around with 119.65 points as the U.S. Gymnastics Championships concluded on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Now with seven U.S. titles – one from every senior nationals she has ever entered dating back to 2013 – Biles has more than any other woman in history. She was previously tied for six with Clara Schroth Lomady, whose were won between 1945 and 1952 when the AAU was the sport’s national governing body. Biles is now tied with Alfred Jochim (1925-1930; 1933) for most by any American.
The 24-year-old Biles has won every all-around competition she’s entered since the 2013 U.S. Championships.
“It’s really emotional, especially going into my second time doing an Olympic run,” Biles told NBC’s Andrea Joyce on NBCSN. “It’s really crazy.”
As she continues to gradually build up to the eventual defense of her Olympic all-around title, Biles has not been performing all of her most difficult skills, but has dominated nonetheless.
On both days of competition this week, she left out the double-double balance beam dismount named after her and the Yurchenko double pike vault she was the first woman to perform when she debuted it at U.S. Classic two weeks ago.
“We’re definitely going to do it at Trials,” she told media of the vault. “I didn’t do it at this competition because on Wednesday I jammed my ankles and they didn’t feel too good, so we just made a decision to not do it and not rush it so that I wouldn’t be too, too nervous.”
Biles had the highest combined scores on beam, floor exercise and vault; this is the fourth time she has won three or more event titles at nationals.
“I feel like every single championship stands out for a different reason, but this one stands out specifically because it’s the road to Tokyo,” Biles said.
Her floor routine, which includes two eponymous skills, is so far ahead of the rest of the field that Biles went out of bounds four times between both routines and still won that title by 1.5 points. She showed improvements on Sunday though, only going out of bounds once and scoring 0.3 more than Friday. Her all-around score was also 0.55 points higher on day 2.
Trailing Biles by 4.7 points was Suni Lee, runner-up in 2019 as well, with a 114.95 total, followed closely by Jordan Chiles’ 114.45 points. Biles has won five of her national titles by a margin greater than four points.
Lee competed all-around for the first time since the 2019 World Championships, where she won silver on floor and bronze on uneven bars. She missed two months of training in 2020 when she broke a bone in her left foot, then another two months for left Achilles problems. The 18-year-old won her second national title on bars this week.
“I think this is a really good confidence booster because I wasn’t even at my full potential on floor, and obviously my vault could have been a little better and today my bars was a little rough,” Lee said. “It definitely helps my confidence because I know I don’t have to be 100 percent to be in the top with Simone, so I’m really proud of myself.”
Chiles, 20, is having a breakout year after placing sixth at the last nationals in 2019. A close friend and training mate of Biles’ at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, she won the Winter Cup in February and was second to Biles at last month’s U.S. Classic.
She said everything changed for her after moving from her hometown of Vancouver, Washington, to Texas in 2019 to train at Biles’ gym under coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi.
“When I moved to WCC, I had the worst lack of confidence in my whole gymnastics career, and I think just having the proper coaching and the proper teammates that can support you through everything definitely helps throughout your whole gymnastics and even in your life in general,” Chiles shared. “I honestly can’t thank Cecile and Laurent enough because they honestly are like the dopest people I’ve ever met in my life, and it’s crazy to see how I was in the past to now; I definitely can say my confidence is way better than it was back in the day.”
Biles has mentored and encouraged Chiles along the way.
"[After the meet] I told her that she had done it and she belongs here, and that we’re going to go to [Olympic] Trials and do the exact same thing because this is what we trained for,” Biles said. “I’m happy she got to go out there and show the world what she’s capable of because she deserves it.”
Olympic Trials will take place in less than three weeks -- June 24-27 in St. Louis, Missouri -- after which four athletes will be chosen to compete in the team event in Tokyo with a fifth athlete competing solely as an individual.
“The gymnast does not have to be an all-arounder,” high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster said of the additional, individual athlete. “Our goal is to provide our athletes with the most opportunities to win medals for themselves and for Team USA. We believe that we’re going to have our strongest all-arounders on the team. … Whoever is really stepping up and showing the best potential for winning a medal or medals will earn that [individual] spot.”
While Biles, Lee and Chiles are all favorites to make the Olympic team -- especially with the top two finishers at Trials automatically qualifying -- the battle for the fourth team spot is tight.
In Fort Worth, fourth through ninth place were separated by less than a point.
Emma Malabuyo finished fourth with 110.45 points -- an impressive result for the 2017 U.S. junior silver medalist after her senior career had so far been marred by injuries; Malabuyo was seventh after Friday night’s competition.
“Clearly Emma Malabuyo was super impressive,” Forster noted. “She came out of a very, very low position at the U.S. Classic, and it’s great to see her back in her international form that she was in a couple years ago since she’s wrestled with a couple injuries here and there. ... There were a couple of surprises today but I’d say she was the best surprise that we weren’t expecting.”
Leanne Wong (110.15), Jade Carey (110), Skye Blakely (109.55) and Grace McCallum (109.55) complete the top eight, all of whom automatically qualified to Olympic Trials. 2016 Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner is also squarely in that mix, placing ninth with 109.5 points, just 0.95 from fourth after all eight routines.
Carey is the only American gymnast who has already secured a spot in Tokyo, which she did so by earning the maximum number of points on floor throughout the 2019-20 World Cup series. If she automatically qualifies for the four-person Olympic team at Trials (and chooses to accept that team spot), the U.S. will lose her individual spot and send one less gymnast to Tokyo.
It was announced after the competition that Skinner, Kara Eaker, Kayla DiCello, Shilese Jones, Emily Lee, Amari Drayton, Ava Siegfeldt, Addison Fatta, Zoe Miller and Riley McCusker were also invited to compete in St. Louis. Additional athletes can petition to Trials, a process that is still ongoing.
Among those who might petition are 2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez, 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd and 2005 World all-around champion Chellsie Memmel.
Hernandez, who returned to competition in February for the first time since the Rio Olympics, hyperextended her knee during beam warm-ups on Friday and scratched from the remainder of that session after performing her beam routine in the first rotation. At the time she was hopeful for a return on day 2, but eventually withdrew from the meet altogether.
Hurd has had a rough time competing this spring since having her fifth and sixth elbow surgeries in March. She performed only beam and floor at both U.S. Classic and nationals, placing 26th and 23rd on the two, respectively, this week.
Memmel, a 2008 Olympian, competed for the first time in nine years at the U.S. Classic. Now a 32-year-old mother of two, she returned to training gymnastics purely for her love of the sport and was eventually convinced to make a competitive comeback, which has inspired many. Memmel had the fifth-highest single vault score on day 1 and was 13th overall on beam. She fell on her Arabian on beam on day 2, and also fell off bars both days -- an event she won the world title on 18 years ago. After falling twice on bars on Sunday she chose not to finish the routine.
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