It’s hard to know which should be the bigger headline: that Simone Biles fell on a tumbling pass, or that she’s nevertheless still in the lead after the first of two nights of competition at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis.
The whirlwind of energy from Spring, Texas has dominated every competition she’s entered for the past two years in a show of force that gymnastics-watchers see perhaps once in a generation, if that. Biles has so much difficulty in all her routines and executes it all so well that even with a mistake or two, she’s far ahead of the field.
That was the case Thursday night, when Biles stunned the crowd (and probably the judges, not to mention herself) by landing her last tumbling run and falling to her knees. The last pass, a full twisting double tuck, is the easiest in Biles’s floor routine, though still among the hardest tumbling runs done at the international level.
“Everyone thinks I’m a robot,” Biles said after the competition. “So, um, I guess I’m human now. So that clears everything out of the way.”
In spite of her mistake on Floor and a couple of uncharacteristic wobbles on balance beam, Biles is ahead of the rest of the field by more than a point heading into the Saturday’s final. She had some help from her fellow competitors — aside from Maggie Nichols, who finished second in the standings Thursday and reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who was third, no other competitor had a clean competition.
Nichols, who missed the World Championships last season after dislocating her knee on her last tumbling pass at the Pan American Championships, has bounded back to become the surprise of the meet so far. After a third-place finish behind Douglas at the Secret U.S. Classic last month, the 17-year-old from Little Canada, Minn. led the meet through three rotations, signalling that she can more than hold her own.
Aly Raisman, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist on beam, fought nerves before her routine and wound up popping off on her two footed layout to split jump, a new combination for her this year. But the Olympic floor champion bounded back in the next rotation on her specialty, scoring a competition-high 15.55. Biles had the biggest score of the night overall, nearly sticking her Amanar vault for 16.25. 2014 World team member Madison Kocian wowed with a 15.5 on Uneven Bars, and her Worlds (and training) teammate Alyssa Baumann posted the highest score on beam with 15.1.
Douglas, in just her third meet since the London Olympics, continued showing sound gymnastics. Lacking some of the difficulty that won her the Olympic title in 2012, the Virginia native looked far more comfortable with her routines compared to three years ago, and knows that she can add difficulty later.
Kyla Ross, 2012 Olympic team gold medallist and with Douglas and Raisman the only other member of the Fierce Five still competing, had a rough outing, unsteady on bars and floor. The fan favorite was elegant as always but put a hand down on her final tumbling pass on floor and continued to have problems on uneven bars, this time underrotating her new double front dismount.
Still, the U.S. looks collectively strong, especially compared to the first night of the U.S. Championships from 2011, the year before the 2012 Olympics, where nearly every competitor recorded a fall somewhere.
Elsewhere, 2014 U.S. Junior champion Jazmyn Foberg leads the Junior competition after the first day over her friend and teammate Laurie Hernandez, winner of last month’s Secret U.S. Classic qualifying meet. If the junior scores were mixed with those of the seniors, Foberg’s 58.35 would put her sixth.
Ragan Smith, a firecracker out of Texas Dreams in Coppell, Texas, is third heading into the second day of competition.
The big three U.S. Juniors at this point were all born in 2000, making them all age-eligible for the 2016 Rio Games. The women’s competition at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships concludes Saturday night.