In the end, it wasn’t even close. World All-around champion Simone Biles ran away with her third consecutive U.S. title Saturday night in Indianapolis, cementing her status as one of the top American gymnasts of all time.
Not since Kim Zmeskal won the U.S. Championships from 1990 to 1992 has an American woman won three consecutive titles. Biles’s dominance in this golden age of U.S. Gymnastics sets her even farther apart as the run toward the 2016 Rio Olympics heats up.
Biles herself may not be thinking about the Olympic Games and her possible impact in Rio, but she’s about the only one who isn’t. Perhaps once in a generation a gymnast appears who is so dominant and so reliable that he or she seems unbeatable. Biles — and reigning Men’s World champion Kohei Uchimura, who hasn’t lost an All-around competition since 2008 — are those athletes.
But even Biles isn’t infalliable, and she proved it during the qualification round Thursday in Indianapolis, falling on her final pass on floor exercise after a too-high back handspring didn’t quite launch her into the air as needed. She also wobbled twice on balance beam, demonstrating, as she herself noted afterward, that she was only human.
But Super Simone showed up for Satuday’s final, posting the best score of her career on vault (16.3) for a stuck Amanar that received an enormous 9.9 points for execution. That 9.9 is the highest execution score recorded in elite competition since the code of points became open ended in 2006.
It didn’t stop there. Biles was excellent everywhere else, recording 14.9 on her weakest event, uneven bars, as well as 15.9 on balance beam and 15.85 for a hit floor exercise to a spicy medley of Doris Day’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” In the final tallies, she won by nearly five whole points, an extraordinary margin of victory. There is no perhaps about it — Biles is the best, period.
The results of the rest of the pack, including heralded 2012 Olympians Aly Raisman and Gabrielle Douglas, was mixed.
Rising American Maggie Nichols, who has been on the ascent most of the quad, showed her star power throughout the championships, setting herself apart with an excellent Amanar vault and diverse, well-performed routines everywhere else to take silver in the all-around behind Biles.
Raisman, fourth after the first night of competition after a fall off the balance beam, hit all her routines on night two to move up to bronze medal position. Third is a familiar spot for her — Rasiman won bronze at the U.S. Championships from 2010 to 2012 en route to making the Olympic team. She was the grind of the Fierce Five — not the most talented over four events, but a workhorse whose difficulty and consistency made her irreplacable. In her comeback after two years away from the U.S. Championships, Raisman is relying on the same formula as she makes her bid for the 2016 team.
Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, fell from third on night one to fifth after so-so performances on balance beam and floor exercise. Douglas finished behind consistent new senior Bailie Key and ahead of 2014 World team member Madison Kocian, whose uneven bars were the best of the top six.
As things stand, there’s a good chance that these six will be selected to represent the U.S. at the World Championships in Glasgow in October. Taken as a group, they have little weakness, being composed mostly of true generalists, which makes it find three or four who could easily provide top class routines on each event.
Kyla Ross, the reigning World bronze medalist and third member of the Fierce Five still competing, continued to struggle in finals, finishing 10th after continued problems on uneven bars and bobbles elsewhere.
It also speaks to the depth of the U.S. team that none of the gymnasts who won gold for the Americans at last month’s Pan American Games were named to the National team after Saturday’s competition.
Junior competition: Laurie Hernandez’s fantastic 2015 was capped with the Junior National title a few hours before the seniors took the stage Saturday night.
Hernandez put together four high quality routines and showed excellent expression on floor exercise to barely best her friend and training partner Jazmyn Foberg, who took the title in 2014. Texan Ragan Smith was third, with the best scores on balance beam and floor exercise.
This will be Hernandez’s first and last Junior National title. She was born in 2000 and will compete in the senior division next year as she makes her bid for Olympic selection.
Hernandez’s rise has been swift. After finishing 21st of 23 competitors at the 2012 Junior Nationals, Hernandez has climbed the ranks to hit the top in 2015. She was second in 2013 and did not compete due to injury in 2014.
She returned strong this year, winning the Junior title at the Trofeo di Jesolo in Italy in March and adding the all around at last month’s Secret deodorant-sponsored U.S. Classic, the final qualifier for the U.S. Championships.