Is Simone Biles unbeatable if she hits all four routines in an all-around competition?
“Not necessarily,” said Mykayla Skinner, who will try to prove that at the American Cup in Arlington, Texas, on March 7. “I guess I’d have to take it step by step and see.”
Biles, 17, is the overwhelming favorite at next week’s competition, her first since bagging four gold medals at the World Championships in Nanning, China, in October.
The Texan known to light a candle to the patron saint of athletes before meets is undefeated in senior U.S. and World Championships all-around finals. She overtook American Kyla Ross going into the last rotation at the 2013 World Championships and rolled to victories at the 2014 P&G Championships (despite a balance beam fall) and 2014 World Championships.
“She’s not human,” 1984 U.S. Olympic all-around champ Mary Lou Retton said at the P&G Championships in August. “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.”
The 18-year-old was sixth in all-around qualifying at the 2014 World Championships, 1.8 points behind Biles, and didn’t get to contest the final because she was the third-ranked American in qualifying. Finals can include a maximum of two gymnasts per country.
Skinner, similar to McKayla Maroney in not only name but also her best events, then finished third in vault and fourth on floor exercise in apparatus finals in Nanning. Biles took silver and gold in those events.
Biles plans upgraded routines at the American Cup on her first tumbling pass on floor and on the uneven bars, her weak event. Biles has such hatred for bars that she jokingly hoped competitors posted better scores to knock her out of the uneven bars final at the 2013 World Championships (they didn’t; she finished fourth).
Biles, a home-schooled high school senior, declined Thursday to say if or when she will turn professional.
“So far, what I have my eyes set on are college gymnastics for now,” she said, referring to her commitment to UCLA in August (Biles has said she will defer her enrollment until after the 2016 Olympics).
One thing she’s not focused on is what just about everyone asks her about. The Olympics. She said there are no references to them at her training gym in Conroe, Texas. A couple of posters of Biles, but no Olympic rings in sight.
“Thinking of next year scares me a bit, so if anyone brings up the Olympics, it’s definitely not me,” Biles said.
It’s difficult as the Rio Games near. The 500-days-out mark is coming.
Biles recently attended national team camps with 2012 Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, who haven’t competed since London but are hoping to become the first U.S. women to make back-to-back Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000.
“I know how bad they want to compete,” Biles said. “Last year, at the beginning I was out for a while.”
In February 2014, Biles withdrew before the American Cup due to a shoulder problem from overtraining. She also missed the Pacific Rim Championships in April.
She came back to sweep the Secret U.S. Classic, P&G Championships and World Championships, posting arguably the two most dominant Worlds performances in U.S. history in 2013 and 2014.
The American Cup will feel different, even if Biles easily prevails. That’s because it’s at AT&T Stadium, nicknamed JerryWorld. Biles will compete in front of many friends and family members, for a change, and in a venue much larger than she has ever seen.
“We’re going to look like ants,” she said. “I guess you need a big stadium for big gymnastics.”