KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was Simone Biles they came to see. If there were any doubt, the answer was in the decibels of the squeals and shrieks that shot through the rafters of Sprint Center each time her name was announced:
“Now on beam, Simone Biles . . .” — followed by deafening cheers.
“Now on floor exercise, Simone Biles . . .”— earsplitting cheers.
At 22, Biles had not lost an all-around competition in six years.
And the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships were no different — especially Sunday night, the final night of the two-day event, in which Biles aced a skill no other woman (and only two men in the world) has successfully landed in competition — a triple-twisting, double somersault that capped the first tumbling pass of her floor routine like a cymbal crash.
Biles had overcooked it Friday, needing to put both hands on the mat to keep from falling. In a competition one month earlier, she had stepped out of bounds.
On Sunday, even though the reigning Olympic and world champion knew she had nailed the tornado-like triple-double of twists and flips, she grabbed her cellphone immediately after coming off the mat, found an instant video clip, showed it to her coach and retweeted it — all in time to compose herself before competing on vault.
“I’m just happy that I landed it,” Biles said afterward. “After Night 1, my confidence got shot down, so I was really worried about it going into today. That’s all I could worry about.”
On the heels of that and numerous other feats, Biles claimed a record-tying sixth U.S. championship, winning the all-around title with 118.500 points — 4.950 points over her nearest competitor, silver medalist Sunisa Lee (113.550). Grace McCallum took bronze (111.850).
Biles also won gold medals on vault, floor and balance beam
Gaining the most ground on the final night in the all-around was 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd, who finished fourth after standing eighth at the midpoint.
But the competition belonged to Biles, as does the sport of gymnastics.
At 4-foot-8, Biles is carrying U.S. gymnastics on her shoulders. A national governing body she doesn’t fully trust relies on her to sell tickets, bring in TV audiences and woo back corporate sponsors — all while pushing the boundaries of her physical limits and those of her sport.
Said Tom Forster, high performance team coordinator for the U.S. women’s national team, of Biles: “She is such a draw. Our sport hasn’t had one person, really, in that iconic role in a long time. It helps everybody. It’s inspiring to everybody. . . . We’re super happy that she has come back from 2016 and wants to do it again. It’s good for the sport.”
Beyond Biles’s breathtaking gymnastics skills, her biggest achievement at the U.S. championships might have been managing the roller coaster of emotions she battled en route to her sixth all-around gold.
She was reduced to tears after Wednesday’s initial practice in discussing her lingering anger over USA Gymnastics’ failure to protect her and hundreds of other gymnasts from serial predator Larry Nassar, who abused them in the guise of medical treatment.
On Friday, she was so angry at herself for erring on her triple-double that she had to fight the urge to storm out of the arena. She pushed on, of course, performing what she called “angry gymnastics” to take a lead that set her up for Sunday’s win.
At each stage of the championships, Biles managed wild swings of emotions and never let her competitive level dip — at least not to a standard she couldn’t redeem.
And when she stuck the landing on her least favorite and final event — uneven bars — she ran to her coach for a double high-five and a hug and erupted in a smile as sparkly as the sequins on her leotard, knowing she had accomplished her work.
Asked whether she had felt weighed down by the mistrust she feels toward USA Gymnastics, Biles said: “No, I feel like you just kind of shut it out. Once I’m here, I’m here to do a job, so I don’t really think about it.”
While the 2019 U.S. championships have no direct bearing on who will make the U.S. team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the question was in the backdrop of every rotation. Biles, who simply has no peer, will lead the four-person team.
She proved herself a once-in-a-generation talent at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she won four gold medals (team, all around, vault and floor). Then, after taking a one-year sabbatical from training and competition, she has propelled herself into a higher orbit.
In addition to the all-around, individual medals were awarded on each of the four women’s disciplines, as follows:
Vault: Biles; Jade Carey; MyKayla Skinner
Uneven bars: Lee; Hurd; Biles
Balance beam: Biles; Kara Eaker; Leanne Wong
Floor: Biles; Carey; Lee
DiCello wins junior title
Earlier Sunday, Kayla DiCello, 15, of Boyds, Md., won the U.S. junior women’s championship after taking silver in 2018. DiCello, who has trained at Gaithersburg’s Hills Gymnastics since enrolling in a “Mommy and Me” class at age 2, was by far the event’s most consistent performer over two nights of competition and on all four apparatus.
The reigning junior world vault champion, DiCello also won her second consecutive U.S. junior championship on vault and her first U.S. junior championship on floor, which brought her gold medal haul at the competition to three. She tied for third on balance beam and placed fourth on uneven bars.