Simone Biles returns to Secret Classic a different gymnast

Simone Biles
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Before Simone Biles won the P&G and World Championships all-arounds last year, she competed at the Secret U.S. Classic.

“The meet wasn’t so great,” her coach, Aimee Boorman, said this week.

Biles fell on uneven bars and floor exercise, barely stayed on the balance beam and didn’t attempt a vault at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

She rewatched those performances a couple months later and apologized to her coach.

“I have no idea who that was that day,” Biles told Boorman.

A different Biles, aided by a sports psychologist, captured the P&G Championship all-around title less than a month after the Secret Classic in her first senior appearance at the meet. She then won the World Championship in Antwerp, Belgium, on Oct. 4.

Biles, the powerful 4-foot, 8-inch Texan, returns to the Secret Classic in the same Chicago suburb on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, Universal Sports) for her first competition since the World Championships. She leads a field that also includes the reigning P&G and Worlds runner-up, 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross.

The Secret Classic is the final tune-up meet for the P&G Championships, which are Aug. 21-24 in Pittsburgh. The World Championships are in Nanning, China, in October.

Biles, who had ankle surgery after Worlds, missed the American Cup in March with a right shoulder aggravation (Boorman said it wasn’t an injury, but a result of overtraining).

She flew to British Columbia for the Pacific Rim Championships and showed off a new floor exercise routine in podium training at the 2010 Olympic speed skating venue. But the shoulder bothered on bars, and she withdrew before the meet as a precautionary measure, Biles said.

“[The shoulder] still spazzes, but it’s fine,” Biles, 17, said. “We’re not worried about it at all.”

Biles, who mapped out short- and long-term goals at the beginning of 2013, said her goals this year are modest — top three in the all-around at the P&G Championships, which would probably be enough to make the World Championships team.

She said she won an all-around competition at a recent camp in front of U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“[Karolyi has] pushed me this year to get back into shape and remember what it felt like last year and how confident I was,” Biles said.

Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas was also at that camp but wasn’t part of the all-around competition, Biles said. The home-schooled Biles, who sat up in the seat and drove her little sister to school before morning training this past year, looks up to Douglas like an older sister.

Douglas, who hasn’t competed since the London Games, was expected to compete at the P&G Championships, but the Des Moines Register reports she will not be at the meet.

“We’re really good friends, so I don’t think we’re competing against each other,” Biles said. “I never think in training that I’m training to beat people or to compete against other people. You have to beat yourself, actually.”

Biles recognizes the pressure accompanying a World champion going into this year’s big meets. So does Boorman.

“She was a relative unknown at this time last year,” the coach said. “I think she is a little bit nervous going into this competition for the main fact she hasn’t competed since last October.”

Biles will be competing against a startling trend in U.S. women’s gymnastics, too. In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American finisher at the year’s biggest competition.

Karolyi said after last year’s World Championships that there were “several 13-year-olds gearing up for Rio” as well.

Biles will turn 19 in 2016. The oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team that won gold was 18. The U.S. women who went one-two in the 2009 World Championships all-around, Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross, did not make the 2012 Olympics.

Does Biles, whose talents and body type have been compared to Shawn Johnson, have the staying power?

“I don’t see her as being someone who wins Worlds one year and she’s done,” said NBC analyst Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion. “I think it’s quite possible [for Biles to make Rio 2016].”

Liukin was second in the 2005 World Championships all-around and persevered another three years to Beijing.

“It’s all about your training and your preparation and how you handle the whole three years,” Liukin said. “You can’t look at it as a quadrennium. You have to look at it year by year. She definitely has everything to stay on top through these next three years. Now it’s kind of about staying healthy, which is obviously the most important thing. It’s very difficult to do so when your’e at this stage of the game and at this level.”

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