Simone Biles leads halfway through, primed for seventh national title

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Simone Biles did not perform the historic Yurchenko double pike vault that she debuted less than two weeks ago, nor the double twisting-double back dismount named after her on balance beam, but still leads by a wide margin after the first of two nights at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Halfway to a seventh national title, Biles’ score of 59.75 points leads 2019 U.S. silver medalist Suni Lee by 2.4 points going into Sunday’s conclusion when the women will again perform on all four apparatuses in Fort Worth, Texas. Biles’ training mate and close friend Jordan Chiles is in third, 0.45 back from Lee with 56.9.

With a win this weekend, Biles, 24, would break a tie she holds with Clara Schroth Lomady for most all-around national titles.

Biles cleaned up her two major mistakes from the U.S. Classic, her first competition in 19 months that was held just 13 days ago: a fall on bars and putting her hands down on floor exercise. She did have a couple of minor errors on Friday, including separating her legs on bars and a bobble on beam.

Still, the 25-time world medalist led the field in three of four events, with a 15.8 on vault, 14.65 on floor and 14.35 on beam. Her floor routine, which included two eponymous skills, was so powerful that three tumbling passes sent her out of bounds.

“Tonight I feel like it was really good, it was definitely better than Classic,” Biles told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN. “Floor could have been a little bit better, I need to control my adrenaline.”

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Biles’ 14.75 on uneven bars, consistently her least favorite event throughout her career, was second to Lee.

The 2019 world bronze medalist on bars, Lee performed what NBC analyst and 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin called “absolutely the most difficult bar routine in the entire world,” with 1984 Olympic champion Tim Daggett adding that it would have earned the gold at the 2019 Worlds. Her routine scored 15.3 points, creating a 0.55 margin between her and Biles on that event.

This meet is a memorable one for Lee, whose father John is attending his first gymnastics competition in three years. John fell off a ladder two days before Suni was scheduled to leave for the 2019 U.S. Championships; the accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

“It was amazing having him in the stands,” Lee said. “Actually, before my bar routine I was trying to look for him. I was getting nervous because I didn’t know where they were, and then right before I went I saw them and knew it was going to be a good routine.”

Jade Carey (55.45), who has already qualified for the Olympic team as an individual but is pushing to be considered for the team, was fourth despite watered down routines on vault and floor. Leanne Wong (55.3), the 2019 American Cup champion, round out the top five.

There is only 0.45 points separating sixth through 11th in the standings. That group includes 2019 world team members Kara Eaker (54.55) and Grace McCallum (54.3) in sixth and eighth and 2016 Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner in ninth (54.2).

At 32 years old, Chellsie Memmel was once again a highlight of the meet in her second competition back from a nine-year retirement.

Competing with her husband and both of her kids in the crowd for the first time, the 2005 world champion and 2008 Olympian began her night on vault. Memmel performed a double-twisting Yurchenko for the first time in 15 years, scoring 14.75 points for the fifth-highest vault score. She came off bars, which she added after only competing vault and beam at last month’s U.S. Classic, earning just 11.65 points there, but had a solid beam routine that tied for sixth place with a 13.7.

“The emotions started after I saved my Arabian (which she fell on at U.S. Classic), and I smiled and knew I had the dismount,” Memmel said of her beam routine. “After landing the dismount and saluting, it was a major exhale and sigh of relief. That was huge. I felt very proud of that.”

The third and final Olympian in the field, 2016 beam silver medalist Laurie Hernandez, scored 12.4 points for her beam routine in the first rotation that included a fall back on her dismount. She promptly withdrew from the remainder of the night but has not ruled out competing Sunday. Hernandez’s left knee was wrapped during her beam routine, and it was later revealed on her Twitter account that she hyperextended the knee during warmups.

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