ST. LOUIS (AP) — Simone Biles vs. Herself remains a work in progress. The gymnastics superstar against the world?
Next stop, Tokyo. And one more shot at the story. And gold. Maybe a lot.
The reigning world and Olympic champion will headline the USA women’s gymnastics team in Japan next month, earning one of the automatic berths with another easy win at the Olympic trials on Sunday night.
Well, maybe not so easy.
The 24-year-old found herself in tears at one point during an unusually shaky performance – by her impeccable standards. His bars were uneven. She fell off the beam. Going out of bounds during a floor exercise. While her two-day total of 118.098 was more than two points ahead of Olympic teammate Sunisa Lee, Lee actually posted a higher overall score than Biles in the final.
“I kind of got into my head today and started doubting myself,” Biles said. “And you could see it in gymnastics. But go home, work harder. This is just the start of the journey.
Or maybe the beginning of the end. Biles doesn’t know what awaits him after the Tokyo Games. She focused too much on trying to become the first woman in more than half a century to become an Olympic champion again. The lure of history and respect for her immense talent is why she returned after a short hiatus following her dominating performance of five medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. That’s why she stayed on after the COVID-19 pandemic led officials to postpone the opening ceremonies. in Tokyo for a year.
Biles is heading to Japan as the face of his sport, the American delegation and perhaps even the entire Olympic movement. She’s become more than just a gymnastics star since her crowning glory in Rio in 2016. Her consistent excellence – her last second-place finish in a competition was more than nine years ago – combined with her charisma and routines that push possibilities pushed her into the company of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, athletes whose dominance on the world stage made them Olympic icons.
Sport stops to watch when she does her thing. The pressure she feels – both internal and external – is real. And it bubbled up as she gave a somewhat exhausted tribute to the judges after her floor routine, grateful for the standing ovation that accompanied it but also just plain relieved that the big show was finally here.
“Yeah, very relieved that the Olympic trials are over,” she said. “We still have a lot of work to do once there.”
Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum will join Biles on the four-woman Olympic team. MyKayla Skinner, replacement in 2016, obtained the position of specialist “plus-1”. Jade Carey has earned a named spot on the World Cup circuit, which means she will be competing as an individual.
Kayla DiCello, Kara Eaker, Leanne Wong and Emma Malabuyo will serve as alternates.
The selection committee opted to take the top four at trials, although national team coordinator Tom Forster admitted that a team with Skinner instead of McCallum could potentially get a slightly higher score due to the Skinner’s world-class jump.
However, fractions of a point probably won’t tell the difference between gold and silver. If the Americans are anywhere near the top of their game, they should win their third consecutive Olympic crown by a substantial margin. This was enough for the committee to take the ranking order at the top.
“We are so lucky that our athletes are so strong that I don’t think it will come down to tenths of a point in Tokyo,” Forster said. “It doesn’t seem to be…so as a committee, we just didn’t think it was worth changing the integrity of the process just by a few tenths.”
Lee, who will be the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics, is on the rise. Hampered by an ankle injury that slowed her down in the spring and left her limping at times during nationals earlier this month, Lee may be the best gymnast on the planet not called Biles.
The 18-year-old from Minnesota is a marvel on the uneven bars, one of the few gymnasts on the planet who can outplay Biles in an event. His series of intricate connections – all done with a fluidity and grace that makes it seem effortless – are some of the toughest in the sport.
“I just told myself to take a deep breath and do what I normally do, because this is a time when I just had to do my gymnastics,” Lee said.
Chiles admits she probably wouldn’t go to Tokyo if not for the pandemic. She moved to Houston to train with Biles two years ago, but was still finding herself as an athlete. She has become one of the most electric and reliable gymnasts in a country that has the largest pool of talent in the world. Chiles completed all 24 competition routines in 2021, and she put her face in her hands after her floor exercise to drink in fulfillment of a dream she feared would never come true.
“It was a very emotional moment for me because I’ve been through so much with everything that’s happened,” Chiles said. “I’m just very excited.”
With reason. The Americans have dominated every major international competition since winning gold in London in 2012. The streak hasn’t stopped even after the retirement of former national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and the fallout from the sex abuse scandal surrounding former national team doctor Larry Nassar.
Nassar’s cloud lingers as lawsuits between survivors and the organization remain in mediation.
When Biles – who is a Nassar survivor herself – is on the ground, however, the narrative changes. And she knows it. His presence is one of the beacons of the whole movement. She’s ready to put on one last show.
“I think I’ll try to live in the moment a bit because 2016 was so blurry,” she said. “Once we got there, it all happened so fast. … This time we’re going to relax a bit. And kind of enjoy the training and enjoy the process.
It’s almost over.
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