Kansas City, Mo. • The choice was entirely hers. Only there really wasn’t of one for Simone Biles to make.
Sure, she could have taken her triple-twisting double-flip (aka “the triple-double”) out of her floor exercise routine during the final night of the U.S. women’s gymnastics championships on Sunday. She surely didn’t need it to assure herself of another national title.
Still, even as her coach Laurent Landi left the option up to her after the Olympic champion’s bid to become the first woman to complete the triple-double in competition came up a bit short on Friday, he knew the answer.
Spend enough time in the gym around the 22-year-old who is redefining what’s possible in her sport one exhilarating routine at a time and it quickly becomes evident that sidestepping a challenge isn’t really her thing.
So she threw it at the end of her first tumbling pass, fueled by adrenaline, ambition and otherworldly skill. When the dizzying combination ended with her feet firmly on the floor — if barely in bounds — the jolt through the packed arena was palpable. The smile on her face unmistakable. And the competition — just like it has been for six years and counting whenever Biles is involved — was over.
The triple-double served as the exclamation point on her sixth national championship. Her two-day total of 118.500 was nearly five points clear of 16-year-old Sunisa Lee in second and more almost seven points ahead of third-place finisher Grace McCallum.
Yet Biles doesn’t pay too much attention to the margin or her scores for that matter. She’s been a fixture atop the podium for six years and counting. Attempting to find the boundaries of her immense talent is what drives her.
It’s why she got so angry after putting both hands down as she tried to land the triple-double on Friday. It’s why she never thought about ditching it on Sunday. And it’s why she sneaked a peek at her phone while rotating from floor to balance beam, typically a no-no during a meet. Well, at least for anyone not named Simone Biles.
“I wanted to see how it looked,” she said.
Here’s a word: historic.
“It’s like she hit a hole in one and we were all there,” USA Gymnastics high performance director Tom Forster said. “It’s a big deal and we all know it. No one in the world has done it before in the women and actually, she does it better than most of the men who have done it. She should be super excited about that.”
She was. When Biles finished off a two-hour showcase that highlighted how wide the gulf between herself and the rest of the world has become by drilling her dismount on uneven bars: she danced.
Well, sort of. Biles gave coach Laurent Landi a relieved high-five before sticking out her tongue and waving her arms as she ran to hug the rest of competitors in her rotation.
The anger of Friday night — when she openly seethed after shorting the triple-double and making a bit of a mess on bars — was gone.
“I was a lot happier today,” Biles said. “I feel I haven’t been as confident on bars this year as I was last year. To finally do a good routine like I can do it, I was really happy. I was very happy and the last event, so I was like, ‘Thank God we’re done.’ ”
For now anyway. Biles is two months away from a trip to the world championships — where her 20 medals are tied for the most by a female gymnast — and a year away from a return to the Olympics. She was a sensation in 2016, cementing her status as one of the best ever with two weeks of gymnastics that came as close to perfection as the sport allows.
A year to go before a return trip to the games, Biles is even better. And really, it’s not close.
“She’s a freaking beast,” said Utah standout MyKayla Skinner, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team who clinched a spot on the national team by finishing eighth. “Like, I don’t even understand. I always ask her, ‘Do you realize how good you are?’ And she’s like ‘Yeah, but I don’t know.’ It just comes so naturally, it’s amazing.”
Lee and 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd were the only women in the field to place ahead of Biles on any event, finishing one-two on bars, solidifying their chances of joining Biles at world championships in Germany in October in the process.
Skinner earned third place on vault and finished fifth on floor.
“I feel so blessed to have made the national team,” said Skinner. “I am so proud of how far I have come in just three months of training and am grateful for the opportunity to be on the team again. It has taken a lot of hard work and this is a step in the right direction.”
Despite a fall on beam in the first rotation of Sunday’s competition, Skinner bounced back in the next three events and surpassed the scores she posted on Friday in the respective events. Skinner’s strong finish solidified her position in the standings, which were determined by combining scores from Friday and Sunday.
“I definitely felt the nerves come out more because it was the final day,” said Skinner on her emotions during the meet. “After I fell on beam, I decided to just go out there and enjoy the moment no matter what happens. I believe that everything happens for a reason, so I wanted to give it my all and have fun.”
Skinner opened the U.S. Championships on Friday night and competed in all four events, adding in her bar routine that didn’t see action at the U.S. Classics a few weeks ago. Skinner hit all four routines and came into Sunday tied for ninth in the all-around.