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Biles rolls to 3rd straight national title in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Simone Biles won her third straight U.S. national gymnastics title Saturday night, pulling away from a field packed with Olympians to leave little doubt the gap between the two-time defending world champion and everyone else is widening a year ahead of the 2016 Summer Games.

Biles posted a two-round total of 124.100, nearly five points ahead of Maggie Nichols in a sport typically decided by fractions. Three-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman was third, Bailie Key was fourth and defending Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas was fifth in the final major event before the world championship this fall in Scotland. Biles can feel free to book her passport now after four near flawless rotations extended her winning streak to nine meets and counting.

Douglas, Raisman and Nichols also figure to be in great position to make the six-person world team as the U.S. tries to back up the team gold it won in China last October.

The 18-year-old slogged through a largely uninspired opening round Thursday, even landing flat on her face at the end of a tumbling run on floor. The crowd gasped at the rare misstep, though Biles recovered to end her night by drilling her Amanar vault. Her personal-best score of 16.250 caused her to go “Wow.”

All four rotations were kind of like that in the finals. Biles began the night on balance beam, making the 4-inch wide piece of wood 4-feet off the ground feel as wide as the backyard patio. Linking together difficult combinations without so much as a wobble, she put together a 15.9 that might as well have sent the message that “the champ is here.”

She followed with an impeccable, bouncy floor routine. Her red-and-white leotard glittering under the bright lights, Biles is equal parts acrobat and showman who makes pushing the boundaries of the sport look as easy as an afternoon goofing around in the gym. Her 15.85 was bettered even Raisman – the reigning Olympic champion on the event – and somehow still left a little room for improvement for a gymnast who considers herself a closet perfectionist.

Biles nearly attained it on vault. She’s been the best in the world since McKayla Maroney stepped away two years ago. Momentum surging, she quite literally flirted with perfection with an Amanar that would have left Maroney impressed. She packed 2 1/2 twists into a split second then jammed her feet into the mat so hard it appeared as if they were suction-cupped to the ground. Her score of 16.300 included a 9.9 for execution, as close as anyone has come to a 10.0 since the scoring system was revamped following the 2004 Olympics.

In a sport where it’s difficult to stay on top for more than a few months, Biles has overwhelmed gymnastics for the better part of two years. While Raisman and Douglas are well on their way to successful returns following lengthy layoffs after the U.S.’s triumph in London in 2012, Biles shows no signs of coming back to the pack.

Still, there were encouraging signs that Raisman and Douglas are rounding into form. Raisman hopped off the beam on Thursday but put together a rock-steady 14.950 on the apparatus she earned a bronze on at the 2012 games.

Douglas hit a 15.1 on uneven bars for the second straight competition. The 18-year-old said she is pacing herself during her return and there are considerable upgrades available if she can stay healthy.

While Biles continued to roll, the development of Nichols’ gives the Americans a fourth all-around threat. The 17-year-old from Little Canada, Minnesota has attitude – and skills – that match her twitter handle (@MagsGotSwag12). She has spent the last 18 months slowly making inroads on everyone not named Biles and bested three stars with far more extensive resumes.

The top five figure to be a lock for Scotland. After that U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi can choose from bars specialists like Madison Kocian or Ashton Locklear or vaulter MyKayla Skinner. Kyla Ross, a member of the Fierce Five in London, may be in trouble after lackluster performances on both uneven bars and floor.

No matter who ends up on the plane in October, the U.S. will have the deepest and most talented roster on the planet as it prepares to send Karolyi off a winner in her final quadrennium officially in charge.