Simone Biles

Simone Biles dominates to open P&G Championships

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PITTSBURGH — Simone Biles‘ coach has taught the gymnast not to look at her scores during competition.

“As time went on, I’ve just looked at them anyways,” Biles said. “It scares me if I don’t know my score.”

Biles didn’t need to look to know on the first night of the P&G Championships. She performed like the globe’s greatest gymnast.

The reigning World all-around champion took a whopping 3.15-point lead halfway through the U.S. all-around competition at Consol Energy Center. Biles, 17, can wrap up her second straight title Saturday night.

She notched the highest scores on balance beam (15.7, video), floor exercise (15.65, video) and vault (15.9, video) on Thursday. The short-but-powerful Texan wrapped her night with a 14.55 on uneven bars (video), her weakest event.

Biles’ all-around total is 61.8 points, 1.3 higher than her first-day total in 2013, when she entered the P&G Championships with little fanfare, coming off a horrendous warm-up meet two weeks earlier.

Maggie Nichols is a distant second with 58.65 points. Biles’ lead is comfortable, but consider Jordyn Wieber won the 2011 title by 6.15 points after two days.

Olympian Kyla Ross had the worst day of competition she could remember, falling on floor exercise and putting her knee down on her uneven bars dismount. Ross is in fourth place out of just eight all-around competitors.

“I don’t remember ever falling twice in a meet,” said Ross, who is 3.85 points behind.

Biles leads much more comfortably than at last year’s P&G Championships, where she edged Ross by .75 on the first day. Biles finished just .2 ahead of Ross after the final day.

“[Biles] is a year better trained, and she has more confidence,” said her coach, Aimee Boorman. “She has more experience under her belt. She went to World Championships last year and did her thing [becoming the third U.S. woman to ever win four medals at a Worlds].”

Biles received advice from the most important woman in U.S. gymnastics before competing Thursday. Be confident, U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi told her.

“Simone’s still intimidated by her,” Boorman said. “She really values Martha’s opinion.”

But Biles admitted to nerves on her first apparatus, because she was last up in the order on the four-inch-wide balance beam.

“I was freaking out,” Biles said, “because Kyla’s always last.”

She was shaky in warm-up and approached Boorman.

“I just need to trust myself, right?” Biles said.

“Exactly,” her coach responded.

“I didn’t need to say anything,” Boorman said. “She was coaching herself in that moment.”

The not-quite-five-feet Biles bobbled slightly and took a slight hop forward on her dismount, but her score was a half-point better than anybody else.

“I thought beam was shaky,” Biles said. “I guess that’s just because I can feel it more than people see.”

She improved on floor and vault, outscoring her routines from last year’s meet, and finished with a satisfactory effort by her standard on bars.

How did Boorman see it?

“As her coach?” Boorman said. “I saw a lot of mistakes.”

Boorman said Biles didn’t stick any landings, could have displayed tighter form and executed with greater precision.

“[Biles] knows all of that,” Boorman said.

Which brought Boorman to her tenet, not looking up at that giant scoreboard.

“It is about their performance, not about their score,” she said. “They have no control over their score. It could be a tough day of judging. It could be an easy day of judging. It’s all about, do you feel like you improved from what you did before.”

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the women’s all-around first day Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Sam Mikulak leads decorated men’s field

Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith embraced the role of heavy favorite coming into the U.S. gymnastics championships.

Thrust into the spotlight for the first time in her career, the 17-year-old hardly appeared intimidated by the stage. Smith pulled away from the field to claim her first national title Sunday, posting a score of 115.250, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith opened up a 1.3-point lead over McCusker in the opening round Friday but admitted afterward she wasn’t particularly impressed by her own performance. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.850 total in the finals was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

Smith is one of the few holdovers from the 2016 Olympic cycle, serving as an alternate for the “Final Five” team that won half of the available medals in Rio de Janeiro last fall. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez are taking breaks or have moved on, leaving Smith as the standard bearer for new national team coordinator Valeri Liukin.

The program appears to be in solid hands. Smith ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used last year for something a little more mature. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars.

Smith will be in the mix for the all-around title at the world championships in Montreal, where she’ll have a chance to extend the U.S.’s dominance. An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the field in preliminaries, calling it a positive step for a group lacking in experience. The gymnastics were markedly improved in the finals.

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful.

Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating, and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal. McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. McCusker finished first on bars — her legs practically magnetized together as she went from bar to bar — to win the event with ease.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an alternate last summer, wound up second on bars with a watered down routine as he makes her way back from her own injury issues and should have time to install upgrades before Montreal.

Whoever heads to Canada in October will go with the usual expectations for what has become the sport’s most dominant program.

MORE: Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles has competed in the six previous U.S. National Championships, winning the last four, but in Anaheim this year, she’s watching from the sidelines. Biles won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault and floor) and one bronze (on beam) last summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

This week she revealed she has returned to the gym to prepare for a yet to be determined event, in her return to competition.

When asked how she’s been doing in the gym by NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce, Biles responded with her signature smile accompanied by an endearingly bashful eye roll, “the beginning is…OK.”

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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