INDIANAPOLIS — Simone Biles shed tears Wednesday.
Biles, the two-time reigning U.S. and World all-around champion who hasn’t lost in more than two years, did something unexpected on the balance beam while practicing ahead of the P&G Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“A lot,” coach Aimee Boorman said, unconcerned. “Even on a bad day, it would have been better than what she did today.”
Biles called it a “waste of a workout,” one day before she begins a quest to become the first woman in 23 years to win three straight U.S. all-around titles (broadcast schedule here).
“I cried it all out, so it’s good,” she said, unconcerned. “I just get so frustrated with myself that the first thing I go to is to cry.”
Boorman’s coaching advice?
“She told me to screw my head on,” Biles said.
The sequence was a reminder that no matter how many gymnastics legends pump Biles up as the greatest to ever wear a leotard, she is capable of mistakes. Even defeat.
“We get so nervous because we have to be perfect all the time, and that’s not even possible,” Biles said.
Her last loss in a public all-around competition was March 30, 2013. Biles has won eight straight meets since and is the prohibitive favorite to win the Olympic all-around title in Rio de Janeiro next year.
But behind closed doors, at a national team camp at the Karolyi ranch in Texas earlier this year, Biles finished second in “verifications,” combining scores from all four apparatuses.
“I would rather see you at the top,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi told Biles that day, unconcerned, according to Biles. “It is what it is.”
Biles will compete Thursday and Saturday against a field much deeper than in 2013 or 2014. It includes Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, at their first nationals since 2012, and 2013 U.S. junior champion Bailie Key, who missed last year’s meet due to injury.
“Everybody wants to knock down the champion and be the new champion,” Karolyi said. “Mentally, it’s a little bit more pressure.”
Performances at the P&G Championships will go a long way in determining who is chosen for the six-woman team for October’s World Championships. That team will be named following a more important fall national team camp.
Biles is in no danger of missing the Worlds team. She will win in Indianapolis if she hits all eight of her routines, NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said.
“I think all the girls are just like, ‘Simone’s just in her own league, and whoever gets second place, that’s the winner,'” Raisman joked in a USA Today podcast recently. “Simone’s just doing her own thing. Her and [Japanese Olympic all-around champion] Kohei Uchimura just can do their own thing together.”
With a reputation like that comes expectations.
“She’s human, and I think people see her as being something other than human,” Boorman said.
Australian swimming champion Ian Thorpe once said, “If you turn those expectations into a negative, that becomes pressure. If you turn those expectations into a positive, it becomes support.”
The support is there. Biles feels it around her native Houston area, where she graced a local magazine cover and is recognized more and more.
But Boorman said she thinks sometimes people see Biles “as being something other than human.”
“If she were to not win at this point in her career, she wouldn’t be disappointed in herself or upset that someone else beat her,” Boorman said. “She would be worried about disappointing other people, the people that hold the expectations of her.”