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ST. LOUIS – There are few adjectives that remain to adequately describe Simone Biles’ greatness. Lucky for Simone, she lets her gymnastics do the talking.
Sunday night at the P&G Gymnastics Championships finals Simone’s message was loud and clear: She’s the best – once again – in the country, and continues to ramp up her otherworldly abilities ahead of August’s Olympic Games.
The 19-year-old from Houston won a fourth consecutive national title, the first woman to do so outright in the history of the competition, by outscoring her nearest contender by nearly four points.
Biles’ 125.000 bested Aly Raisman’s 121.100, who edged out charging teenager Laurie Hernandez, who scored a 120.500, for third place. Gabby Douglas, the reigning Olympic all-around champion, was fourth at 117.800.
Those four gymnasts, along with Madison Kocian, Amelia Hundley, Alyssa Baumann and Ragan Smith automatically qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials July 8 and 10 in San Jose, while Rachel Gowey, MyKayla Skinner, Brenna Dowell, Christina Desiderio, Emily Schild, Ashton Locklear and Maggie Nichols were added by the selection committee.
“All you can say is ‘wow,’” 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin said on NBC of Biles.
But Biles is the one who is hardest on herself. Sunday night she had a flurry of mistakes on balance beam, her final event of the two-day event, and walked off fuming, disappointed in herself and her performance.
"That was like the worst routine all week," Biles told coach Aimee Boorman.
That is the cushion that Biles has built, however: She is the best in the country – and as three-time reigning champion, the world – and will go to Rio (pending Trials) as the prohibitive favorite to win gold not only in the all-around, but in three events.
“You run out of adjectives when you are talking about Simone Biles,” confirmed Tim Daggett on NBC. “People have been incapable of doing floor routines that are so packed with high-level skills. If she has one weakness, it’s the uneven bars.”
That’s where Biles was fourth behind Locklear, Kocian and Hernandez.
It was an electric night once again for the 16-year-old Hernandez, the 2015 junior national champion who bounced her way into St. Louis’ heart with an inspiring floor routine Friday night, one crackling with energy. She held strong on Sunday night and pushed Raisman, six years her senior at 22, to the final rotation in a race for the silver medal. After her floor on Sunday, Martha Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator said to another official on the sidelines, “That was good.”
“She has been so solid here,” Liukin said plainly of Hernandez.
You can say the same – “solid” – of Raisman and Douglas, who are the lone two remaining gymnasts from the gold-medal winning Fierce Five team of 2012 fame. Both girls have had to make respective comebacks, but Sunday night Raisman said she felt as good as she had this quad.
“I felt really good tonight, probably the best I have since I’ve come back,” Raisman told reporters. “I’ve surpassed my expectations. Some days, at workouts, I had to ask my dad to come pick me up because I was so tired. I couldn’t even drive home.”
“Aly is the model of consistency,” Daggett said on NBC. “Coming back is never easy.”
Douglas was more up and down on Sunday, bobbling midway through her opening event on uneven bars but then delivering a knockout 15.050 on beam, a routine that brought out a roar inside Chaifetz Arena.
“After bars, I was really mad. I wanted to be really strong,” Douglas said. “I told myself, ‘OK, this is where the pressure is. Am I going to crack or am I going to be bold and hit this beam routine like I have been in training?’”
Douglas did hit, as did Locklear on uneven bars, making her the only gymnast other than Biles to walk away from the two-competition with gold around her neck. That gold could be significant, as the U.S. is seen weakest on bars. Kocian could be Locklear’s biggest foe there, however, having finished second on bars and being the stronger all around gymnast. Kocian was fifth overall.
While the night belonged – no shock – to Biles, the fourth national title to her was just the same as the second or third. Her eyes are locked solely on Rio, which is coming up quicker than she thought.
“Gosh, I guess it’s here,” Biles said of Trials, delightfully surprised that they were finally upon her. “There’s no other step aside from getting to Trials and making the team.”
“Tonight was a little rough for her,” said coach Boorman. “(Beam) will add fuel to the fire for sure. Simone is the kind of person that she was upset about that routine because she knows that that’s not nearly as good as she can be. We just live in the moment. We haven’t set out to have a goal of the Olympics in mind; we are taking this step by step.”
It’s a process that Hernandez, in just her fourth senior competition, is taking in stride, as well.
“I’m a little speechless,” she said. “Being told that I’m going to Olympic trials, that’s just one step closer to a dream I’ve been hanging onto since I was a little kid. All of this is really motivational. I am ready to get back into the gym and train really hard.”
That’s the kind of approach that her coach, Maggie Haney, is happy to hear.
“She loves the spotlight, so we have had to work on being focused at this level,” Haney said. “This should be motivational for her. If she ever questioned whether she could do this or not, I think now she knows that she can.”
Sunday night Olympic champions Shawn Johnson East and Kyla Ross were in the building, taking in the competition from close by. Ross was impressed by the level of gymnastics – including that of Hernandez.
“I feel like Laurie is the me of this year,” Ross said. “She’s proved that she can compete at this senior level.”
A Ross-like storyline back in the Olympic mix? Gymnastics fans will like that.
Now, we all need to go back to our Thesauruses to find appropriate descriptors for what Biles is doing – and has done – in front of our very, unbelieving eyes.