Simone Biles wins every gold medal at U.S. Championships

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BOSTON — All the gold medals for Simone Biles.

Biles, in the second meet of her comeback, won her record fifth U.S. all-around title and swept the four apparatus titles, combining scores from Friday and Sunday at TD Garden.

She never thought it would be possible, but she also wants to work on pre-meet nerves, consistency and confidence.

“I’d give it a B-plus,” Biles told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

The four-time Rio Olympic gold medalist became the first woman to win all five golds at the national gymnastics championships since Dominique Dawes in 1994.

She won the all-around by 6.55 points over 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd, the largest margin since the perfect-10 system was thrown out in 2006. That gap is larger than that separating Hurd from the 11th-place gymnast.

“I knew I was capable of [scoring this well], but I kind of thought I was going to be a nervous wreck and maybe fall apart,” said Biles, who wore a teal mint leotard in part to stand with fellow Larry Nassar sexual-abuse survivors (teal ribbons were worn at NCAA meets in the winter and spring). “Going into these events, I know I kept telling my family like I don’t know if I’m going to be able to calm myself down the way I did before and handle the nerves, but so far, so good.”

Biles led by 3.1 points after a dominant first day Friday.

At 21, she is the first non-teen to win the U.S. women’s all-around since 1971.

“She’s just in another league almost,” third-place Riley McCusker said. “I’m honestly just in awe of her.”

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: Results | Biles explains teal leotard meaning

After Rio, Biles took 14 months before returning to training last November under new coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi. She returned to competition three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic with an uneven bars fall.

No falls over two days at nationals. Just three floor exercise passes that went out of bounds (because of Biles’ otherworldly tumbling power), plus small errors on uneven bars and balance beam Sunday. Biles won her first national title on uneven bars, the only event on which she did not earn a medal in Rio or at any world championships.

Before Biles, the Landis were known for coaching Madison Kocian to uneven bars silver in Rio. Laurent Landi recognized perhaps the biggest obstacle in Biles’ comeback is not among her competition or any apparatus, but between the ears.

“To handle the pressure, to handle the media, to handle everybody, all the expectation, that’s mentally draining,” he said.

Biles has repeated this spring and summer that she feels like a better gymnast than in Rio. The Texan is on a five-year win streak with the only end in sight being her planned retirement after the Tokyo Olympics.

“Confidence-wise and consistency, I still think we have a ways to go to get back up to where I was in Rio, but gymnastics-wise, [better than in 2016],” Biles said. “I think I’m finally starting to get it and understand it. I’ve understood gymnastics for a while now, but I think it’s really sinking in.”

Biles is a shoo-in for October’s world championships team. The five-woman squad will be named after an October selection camp.

Hurd and McCusker are also in great position. Jade Carey, the 2017 World silver medalist on floor exercise and vault, could be a contributor on both events at worlds in Doha.

Ragan Smith, who won the 2017 U.S. all-around in Biles’ absence, is in danger of missing that team. She finished 10th in the all-around, competing with broken toes and lingering pain from an ankle injury that knocked her out of the 2017 Worlds, where she was the favorite.

No doubting who the favorite is this year. Biles owns the world’s best all-around score since Rio by more than two points. Could she sweep the gold medals as she did at nationals?

“It’s irrelevant,” Laurent Landi said. “I think you just need to do what she today … and see what we get at the end. We don’t aim to win. I think it’s bad to think about winning. I think it’s much more important to think about what she needs to accomplish for herself. If at the end she wins, then she wins.”

Aly Raisman, who staged her own successful comeback to make the Rio Olympics, told Biles on Saturday night that she’s not human. Biles was asked Sunday what her international competitors must be thinking.

“Maybe that I should probably quit,” she said, followed by giggles.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Biles fell off the balance beam at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago. She fell off the uneven bars.

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Simone Biles routing field, edging note card at U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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BOSTON — Simone Biles leads the field by a whopping 3.1 points halfway through the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She beat the number at the bottom of the note card in her locker at the World Champions Centre in Texas by a much smaller margin.

No matter the perspective, Biles was more dominant on Friday night than during most of the Rio Olympic cycle. In just her second meet in two years. Nine months after returning to training after a 14-month break.

Biles tallied the highest score on every apparatus in the field and the world’s highest all-around score since Rio — 60.1 points. The second-highest score since Rio? Biles’ 58.7 from her comeback meet at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago.

“At Classics, I was still easing back into everything and kind of feeling the surroundings and getting used to competing again,” Biles, 21, said on the fifth anniversary of her first U.S. all-around title. “I feel like today I really embraced it.”

NATIONALS: Scores | TV/Stream Schedule

In the last Olympic cycle, Biles averaged a 1.94-point lead after the first day of nationals.

She rolls into the final day of competition Sunday, looking to become the first woman to win five U.S. all-around titles and the first non-teen to win since 1971. And send another message ahead of October’s world championships.

Morgan Hurd, who won the 2017 World all-around title in Biles’ absence, is in a distant second after four clean routines. The margin between Biles and Hurd is greater than the margin between Hurd and the eighth-place gymnast.

Asked to put her 60-pointer in perspective, Biles brought up the note card.

“I think it says 60 at the bottom,” said Biles, who hit 62.366 in Rio under a different scoring system.

Biles hit 60 points in a practice meet at her gym right before she left for the U.S. Classic. Her new coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi, encouraged Biles to keep the visual reminder placed in her locker leading up to nationals.

“I wanted to show her that she could reach that score,” Laurent Landi said. “It’s not a big deal. If she does normal, she can be there.”

But nobody else can. Biles had 25.4 total points in difficulty on Friday. The next-highest gymnast (Hurd) had 22.7.

Biles essentially began the meet with a 2.7-point head start. She then was judged to have better overall execution than everybody else, even though she had the disadvantage of performing harder routines.

“She’s just mentally there,” said Riley McCusker, who led Biles going into the last rotation at the U.S. Classic and is in third place here. “She can take that time off and [be] physically there, too.”

BILES ROUTINES: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault 1 | Vault 2

Biles’ flaw in her comeback meet three weeks ago was the uneven bars. She fell trying a more difficult routine than in Rio.

On Friday, Biles nailed her bars set, receiving applause from Laurent Landi, who coached Madison Kocian to a bars silver in Rio.

Biles has never won a national title on bars. At the Olympics, she had the highest scores in the all-around on beam, floor and vault and the seventh-highest score on bars.

“She needs to go through more mental belief that she [belongs] at this level on the bars,” said Laurent Landi, a 40-year-old former French gymnast.

Landi insisted Biles was not at her best Friday. He noted her two overcooked tumbling passes on floor that cost her six tenths for going out of bounds. Imperfect landings on other events. He dismissed Biles’ lead and said he already has plans for upgraded routines before worlds, next year and possibly in the Olympic year.

“Sometimes when it’s difficult in the gym, we, my wife and I, try just to remind her who she’s trying to beat,” he said. “It’s herself.”

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Ragan Smith defends U.S. gymnastics title, competing through pain

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BOSTON — When Ragan Smith won the U.S. all-around title last August, her margin of victory was greater than Simone Biles‘ average the previous four years.

At the world championships in October, Smith fell off the balance beam in qualifying and still posted the second-highest all-around score, just .001 off the lead. If Smith hit all four routines in the final, she would be crowned the world’s greatest gymnast of 2017 (during Biles’ break from the sport).

But as the all-around final began at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Smith crutched out of the training gym. She suffered three torn left ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault, according to the Dallas Morning News, that needed four to five months to heal.

Smith is expected to compete in the all-around at the U.S. Championships on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), looking to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

The ankle still hurts sometimes. So do her three or four broken toes. Smith doesn’t know the exact number because she doesn’t like to get medical check-ups before meets. She would think too much about the diagnosis.

In fact, Smith said she felt pain in practice every day for the last year.

“Everything starts hurting worse because we’re getting older,” said Smith, who turned 18 last week. Smith added that a coach joked to her recently, “You already have a 100-year-old body.” 

“Everybody I feel like has injuries here and there,” she said. “Everybody’s like banged up right now. We [gymnasts] are so strong mentally and physically that I feel like we push through it.”

Back home in the Dallas area, Smith marks her goals on a dry-erase board. The chief one for her two summer meets is this: Be the best Ragan I can be.

“That’s all I’m really striving for this competition,” she said Wednesday.

Smith did not do the all-around at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago, skipping floor exercise because she wants to debut it as a surprise this week. She called Classic “a practice run,” where her best result was third on beam.

Only two gymnasts per nation can compete in a world all-around final. If Biles is one of them, then Smith has to beat out Morgan Hurd (who won the 2017 World all-around title after Smith’s injury) and Riley McCusker (second to Biles at the U.S. Classic).

Smith, the youngest Rio Olympic alternate, is determined to compete on the elite level through 2020. She can take motivation from her bedroom wall and that dry-erase board, both of which had the same quote posted — “She believed she could so she did.”

“These coming up years, it’s definitely who’s in the game the longest. It’s definitely who’s not injured,” she said. “That’s pretty much who they pick, I feel like. You’re training your whole life for one year of gymnastics because that’s when you have to be at your highest peak. I definitely feel like it’s who’s in the game the longest and who can survive and who can help their body the best.”

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