In her return to the competitive stage Saturday, Biles became the first woman to perform a Yurchenko double pike — a vault that requires her to flip twice in a piked position after pushing off the table with her hands. She executed the skill with ease all weekend as she prepared to unveil the new vault at the U.S. Classic. When the moment arrived, the 24-year-old landed the vault with a bouncing step backward, a product of having a bit too much power on a skill so difficult that none of her peers have attempted it in competition.
The difficulty value awarded to the skill gives the vault a maximum score of 16.600, and that’s not much higher than Biles’s other vaults, so why compete the new skill? “Because I can do it!” she said. “And it will still be named after me. ... I know it’s not the correct value that we want, but I can still do it, so why not just show off my ability and athleticism?”
Biles’s performance wasn’t error-free, but she cruised to the all-around title with a score of 58.400, more than a full point ahead of the runner-up. Her leotard featured a goat on the back, emblematic of her status in this sport because of the gulf that exists between her and the competition — even when she makes mistakes. Biles has won the all-around title in every meet she has entered since 2013. At the U.S. Classic, she had the top scores on the vault, beam and floor, and she still has time to reach her peak form as the delayed Tokyo Olympics approach.
Biles began the meet on the beam, the event in which nerves easily turn into mistakes; she finished without a wobble and earned a 14.850. Her trouble came later. At the end of a floor routine packed with difficulty, she fell on her double-twisting double tuck. Even with the mistake, she earned the top score (14.250). On the bars, her final routine, she fell again on a pirouetting element. Biles called both of the mistakes “uncharacteristic” and added, “I’m not really mad about today.”
Behind Biles, dozens of gymnasts are chasing spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Jordan Chiles, who trains alongside Biles, finished second Saturday, and Kayla DiCello of Boyds, Md., was third. Their performances showed they will be serious contenders to make the team that heads to Tokyo.
Chiles placed sixth all-around at 2019 nationals, and she quickly has risen into serious contention to claim an Olympic spot. Chiles posted the second-highest scores of the competition on the vault, bars and floor as she finished with a 57.100. The 20-year-old won the Winter Cup in February, and Saturday’s outing is an important step in showing she can replicate those solid routines.
Chiles said her coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi, “brought the love of the sport back to me.” Her confidence has soared, and she feels calm on the competition floor. When trying to find the right way to describe her growth since she switched clubs, Chiles said it feels comparable to a “humongous rocket ship that just went into the air.”
DiCello had the best bars score of the meet at 14.600, and like Chiles she had a strong showing in every event. The 17-year-old’s floor routine earned a 13.850, behind only Biles and Chiles. DiCello said the postponement of the Games gave her an opportunity to improve and learn new skills.
It’s still early in the elite season. For some gymnasts, the U.S. Classic was their first meet of the year, and not everyone in the field did all four events. Next month’s U.S. championships will offer a better picture of which gymnasts have the best chances to make the Olympic team.
Chellsie Memmel, a member of the 2008 Olympic team, returned to elite competition for the first time since 2012. The 32-year-old performed a full-twisting Yurchenko — an easier vault than the double twist she also does in training — but had excellent technique and only took a small hop back. She celebrated with an enthusiastic fist pump and a hug from her father, who is also her coach. Beam was the only other event Memmel competed, and she had a solid routine until she fell on her Arabian, a backflip with a half-twist at the beginning.
“But I’m still happy with everything that I did,” she said, “and happy that I was out on the floor, that I put myself out there to even get to this point, to try this again, to put on a leo and register for a competition. I’m not going to hold my joy back.”
Laurie Hernandez, a 2016 Olympian who returned to the elite stage this year, said she recently hurt her ankle during training. At the U.S. Classic, she did only two events; she delivered a strong vault but fell on the beam. Neither of her scores were in the top 20, so the 20-year-old is still far from earning a second trip to the Olympics. MyKayla Skinner, an Olympics alternate in 2016, is vying for a spot on the team at 24 and finished 10th.
Grace McCallum, competing in all four events for the first time since 2019, earned the fourth-best all-around score. The 18-year-old had trained her double-twisting Yurchenko vault for only a few weeks but performed the skill well, earning a 14.400 that tied for the fifth-best score.
Other contenders to make the Olympic team showed flashes of potential but not complete performances. Shilese Jones, 18, stuck a double-twisting Yurchenko for a 14.850, the third-highest score. Despite mistakes on the bars and beam, “the potential for her to score incredibly high is impressive,” said Tom Forster, the U.S. high performance director.
Two other gymnasts expected to be in the mix for Tokyo only competed on a few events. Sunisa Lee, an 18-year-old who finished second to Biles at 2019 nationals, fell on the bars and beam, and 2017 world all-around champion Morgan Hurd, 19, had solid routines that lacked full difficulty as she recovers from elbow surgery.
The field is deep, and two major competitions remain before the Tokyo team is selected, but Forster said, “I think the ones who were really ready rose to the top.”
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