Sports

Seven for Simone; Biles claims another US Gymnastics title

Simone Biles talks with teammates during warmups before the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Sunday, June 6, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Simone Biles looks ready for Tokyo. So it seems, are the leading contenders vying to join the reigning world and Olympic gymnastics champion in Japan next month.

The 24-year-old Biles claimed her seventh U.S. title Sunday night, delivering another stunning — and stunningly easy — performance that served little doubt the pressure surrounding her bid to become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around gold in more than 50 years is only pushing her to even greater heights.

Shaking off a somewhat sloppy start Friday, at least by her impeccable standards, Biles put on a four-rotation showcase on what separates her from every other gymnast on the planet. Her score of 119.650 was nearly five points better than runner-up Sunisa Lee and good friend and teammate Jordan Chiles.

While Biles’ victory was never in doubt — it rarely has been during her nearly eight-year reign atop the sport — she remains in no mood to coast. Visibly annoyed after stepping out of bounds three times during her floor routine on Friday, Biles responded the way she almost always does: by cleaning things up and expanding what is possible on the competition floor.

And to think she didn’t even bother with her latest innovation, a Yurchenko double-pike vault she drilled twice at the U.S. Classic last month that caught the attention of everyone from LeBron James to Michelle Obama. Instead, she opted for two with slightly lower difficulty that she completed so casually it was hard to tell if she was in front of an arena that screamed for her at every turn or just fooling around at practice back home in Houston.

Not that it mattered. She still posted the top score on vault anyway. Just like she did on beam. Just like she did on floor. Just like always.

Biles started her night on balance beam and with the instrumental from Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” playing while the entire arena stopped to watch, she barely even wobbled while putting together a series that remains among the gold standard in the world on an event that’s maybe her third best.

Her floor exercise, the one that includes two elements already named after her in the sport’s Code of Points, was far more precise than it was on Friday. She was well in bounds on all but one of her tumbling passes and her 14.950 included a 6.8 D-score, which ranks the difficulty of the routine, tied for the highest by any athlete on any event at the meet.

Lee, competing on a bad ankle that sometimes left her limping around the arena, Lee appears to be gaining momentum following a sluggish return to competition last month. Behind a bars routine that is one of the most innovative and electric on the planet, Lee fended off a strong challenge from Chiles to hold on to silver.

Chiles continued her remarkable rise over the last six months, finishing runner-up to Biles for the second time in three weeks. The 20-year-old, who started training alongside Biles two years ago, is practically now a lock to be named to the U.S. Olympic team following the trials in St. Louis later this month.

The real intrigue heading into the trials might be who else can emerge from a crowded field. Leanne Wong finished fourth, with Emma Malabuyo fifth. Jade Carey, who has already secured an at-large berth to the Olympics thanks to her performance on the World Cup circuit, was sixth.

The group at the trials, however, will not include Laurie Hernandez. A two-time Olympic medalist in 2016, Hernandez did not compete after injuring her left knee on a beam dismount during warm-ups on Friday. The 20-year-old shared a picture of herself in her Captain American/Falcon-inspired leotard anyway sporting a sizable tape job over her injured knee.

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