ST. LOUIS – Perhaps the one thing that Simone Biles did wrong on Friday night was turn the wrong way – as she was walking off from her floor routine.
The three-time U.S. and world champion was at her best when it mattered, however, at the P&G Gymnastics Championships inside Chaifetz Arena, scoring a dominating 62.900 and sitting comfortably in first place ahead of Sunday’s finals.
“I just wanted to walk to that side because it was closer,” a grinning Biles said about her wrong-way exit off the floor. “I was tired.”
No such tiredness showed for Biles, who will go for a record fourth consecutive national title on Sunday.
While it was a night that belonged to Simone – again – the rock-solid performances were aplenty around the gym, including for 2012 Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, her London teammate Aly Raisman, and 2015 U.S. junior champion Laurie Hernandez.
Hernandez and Raisman tied for second place, scoring a 60.450, while Douglas was fourth with a 58.900.
The P&G Championships serve as the first of two Olympic qualifying events for the women’s team, which will be announced at the conclusion of trials in two weeks’ time in San Jose.
Maggie Nichols, runner up at this event last year, competed only on uneven bars and beam as she continues to come back from knee surgery earlier this spring. Madison Kocian, who suffered a broken foot in February, was back in full, however, placing fifth behind Douglas.
Biles won the night on floor, beam and vault and was tied for fourth on bars.
“I showed how hard I’ve been working,” Biles said of her performance. “I wanted to hit all four events and I did, so I’m pretty excited. Those were some of the best routines I’ve done.”
Before the competitors walked out for the night, Raisman, 22, addressed them, sharing her encouragement as they all strive to make the Rio team. It’s something that Hernandez, just 16, said helped her, and a calming method for Raisman, as well.
“I went to the girls and said I was nervous,” Raisman admitted. “I said to take it like a team competition. The atmosphere for a team competition is the best. If we root for each other, it’s better.”
It’s something that Hernandez took to heart. The New Jersey-native exploded out of the blocks with a show-stopping floor routine, then launched into a solid vault in her second rotation. In fact, she was top three on floor, vault and uneven bars.
“It’s good for Laurie to know that she’s that good and it’s good to see her at the top,” said Biles.
“Aly was saying that it wasn’t ‘every man for himself,’ more that we should treat this like a team event,” said Hernandez. “Starting off the meet like that really boosted all of our confidence, I think.”
“We call her ‘Mama Aly,’” Hernandez shared, laughing.
TV cameras caught women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi mouthing “Wow” after Hernandez’s floor routine.
“I think it’s important that the girls impress us, and if I say ‘Wow,’ it means I really like it,” Karolyi said. “It’s a positive point for Laurie. She did a very good job. She handled the pressure very well. She is a newcomer at the senior level and competed as a model gymnast; that’s what we needed to know.”
From an Olympic perspective, Kocian served herself well with a second-place finish on uneven bars, where the U.S. is weakest (that’s a relative term) internationally. It was Ashton Locklear who finished first on bars, having only competed there and on beam.
Both those women will look to nab one of the five spots for Rio. Hernandez was third on uneven bars, as well.
Douglas was strong from start to finish, placing third on floor and fourth on uneven bars. Chaifetz Arena erupted when she hit her vault on the first rotation, her coach letting out a “Yes!” from the sidelines. She stuck her landing on bars, then had to dig in for a couple of saves on beam. An electrifying floor routine closed her night, the reigning world silver medalist (not to mention reigning Olympic champion) continuing to further her consistency.
Amelia Hundley, MyKayla Skinner, Alyssa Baumann, Ragan Smith, Rachel Gowey and Brenna Dowell went sixth to 11th overall.
Biles finished her night on uneven bars, and even the world champion felt relief when she stuck her landing to finish.
“It felt pretty good,” she said. “I work on bars so hard.”