With ‘triple-dou­ble,’ Biles soars to sixth na­tional ti­tle

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Will Graves

KANSAS CITY – The choice was en­tirely hers. Only there re­ally wasn’t of one for Simone Biles to make.

Sure, she could have taken her tripletwis­t­ing dou­ble-flip (aka “the triple­dou­ble”) 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 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 triple­dou­ble 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 likeT,`hank 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 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 herD,`o you re­al­ize how good you are?’ And she’s like Y`eah, but I don’t know.’ It just comes so nat­u­rally, it’s amaz­ing.”

In a sport that some­times forces ath­letes to choose be­tween skill and ex­e­cu­tion, Biles doesn’t have to. She not only puts to­gether the most dif­fi­cult rou­tines in the world, she does them bet­ter than any­one else. Biles won floor, bal­ance beam and vault and fin­ished third on bars even with her “meh” set on Fri­day.

“She does stuff that I never thought peo­ple could do,” Lee said.

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.

Hurd re­bounded from a rocky floor ex­er­cise on Fri­day that dropped her to eighth over­all to zoom up to fourth de­spite ad­mit­ting she “wanted to throw up a lit­tle” when the night be­gan. She promised she would be bet­ter on Sun­day and she was, de­spite a tech­ni­cal glitch be­fore her floor when the mu­sic started be­fore she took her start­ing po­si­tion. She walked off the podium, ex­haled and then went out and drilled her set.

“I think more than any­thing, tonight just re­ally helped my con­fi­dence,” Hurd said.

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL/AP

Simone Biles cel­e­brates af­ter com­pet­ing in the un­even bars to win the all around se­nior women’s com­pe­ti­tion at the U.S. Gym­nas­tics Cham­pi­onships on Sun­day.

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