PITTSBURGH — This dominant era of U.S. women’s gymnastics began with Mary Lou Retton in Los Angeles a little more than 30 years ago. So Retton’s words two hours before competition Saturday night shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Simone Biles is in her own category, Retton said. Not just among her peers, but against all of the champion tumblers over the last three decades.
“She’s not human,” Retton said. “She may be the most talented gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly. And I don’t even think she’s tapped into what she really can do. I think she’s unbeatable.”
Biles won her second straight P&G Championships all-around title Saturday, despite falling on her final routine on the balance beam.
The reigning World all-around champion scored 122.55 points over two nights of competition. Even with the beam spill, that’s 2.1 points more than she scored last year.
Biles built up such a lead that she could afford dropping a full point on beam with that fall. She defeated a depleted field by 4.25 points.
London Olympian Kyla Ross took second. Ross, the world’s second-best gymnast in 2013 who struggled on the first night Thursday, lost to Biles by .2 last year.
Biles guessed that in her current form she would beat the Biles that ramped up training in the month before Worlds last year and won four medals at the meet.
Biles’ floor exercise routine is particularly perfect, with a signature tumbling pass named after her. The Olympic champion on floor, Aly Raisman, is in awe of it.
But Biles’ coach sees flaws.
“I think that consistency wise she needs to continue to improve,” Aimee Boorman said. “We knew that this meet right here, we don’t necessarily want to be 100 percent. We want to make sure we’re 100 percent for Worlds. That’s the most important meet of the year.”
Biles, too, said she needs straighter body lines on uneven bars, an apparatus she would like to take a chainsaw to, better landings on floor exercise and vault and prettier overall skills.
Next up? The World Championships in Nanning, China, in six weeks.
“We are permanently reminding that [Biles’] goal is not winning the U.S. championships,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said, “but her goal is to be competitive at world level.”
At Worlds, Biles will try to end this streak: In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American all-around finisher at the year’s biggest competition — Worlds or the Olympics.
That speaks to the high turnover in women’s gymnastics, leading the sport’s followers to ask if Biles could possibly sustain this level of excellence for another two years.
In terms of the Olympics, keep this in mind: four members of the Fierce Five were competing in the junior division two years before the London Games. And the top U.S. woman at the year’s biggest all-around competition in 2002, 2006 and 2010 did not make the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Biles, who got her braces off between P&G titles, will have to fend off girls born in the 21st century who aren’t even allowed to compete against her yet.
Take Retton, who said she was maybe the fifth best gymnast on her Junior Olympic team in 1982.
“Two years before my Olympic Games,” Retton said, “I was an unknown.”