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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Dazzling Biles wins record 8th US all-around gymnastics title

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SAN JOSE—Simone Biles dazzled on floor exercise Sunday on the way to a record eighth all-around title at the US Gymnastics Championships, another step on a comeback trail pointing toward the Paris Olympics.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist electrified the SAP Center crowd with a soaring floor routine that included a rock-solid landing on her signature Biles I tumbling pass of double layout with a half-twist.

It was her final event of the competition and brought ecstatic fans to their feet, earning a score of 15.400 for a triumphant all-around total of 118.450 points.

Shi Jones, last year’s world championships all-around silver medallist, was second, 3.9 points back with 114.550 and Leanne Wong was third on 111.100.

Biles broke the record for most all-around titles for a man or woman, set by Alfred Jochim with his seventh in 1933 and matched by Biles in 2021.

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Ten years after winning her first US all-around title, the 26-year-old Biles became the oldest woman to seize the national all-around title.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I feel like I don’t think about numbers,” Biles told broadcaster NBC. “I think about my performance and I think overall I hit eight for eight.

Simone Biles

“I guess it’s a lucky number this year.”

Biles had taken control on Friday with a dazzling version of her Yurchenko double pike vault that was awarded 9.8 for execution and scored a whopping 15.700.

On Sunday in vault, she opted for a moderately less difficult Cheng vault, scoring 14.850 — still the second-highest scoring vault of the competition.

She also achieved her aim of ironing out a few mistakes on balance beam, capturing apparatus gold in vault, beam and floor and finishing third in the uneven bars.

Biles was the only competitor to finish the two days of competition with two scores of 15 or higher. Jones produced the only other score of 15 — with a 15.0 on Sunday’s uneven bars.

Biles’s triumph came in just the second competition of her return from a two-year break, which followed her dramatic withdrawal from multiple events at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

She was the sport’s dominant force and out to defend four gold medals won in Rio when she pulled out of most of her events in Tokyo citing the “twisties” — the dangerous phenomenon in which gymnasts lose their sense of where they are in the air.

Her decision to withdraw was widely hailed as a watershed moment for the issue of mental health in elite sports.

Biles did earn a balance beam bronze in Tokyo, and now she looks set to contend again at next month’s World Championships in Antwerp and, by extension, the Paris Olympics next year.

– Personal goals –

But as she remains focused on her mental well-being, Biles declined to elaborate on the “personal goals” fueling her latest return to the sport, which started with an all-around title at the US Classic three weeks ago.

“I like to keep them personal, just so that I know what I’m aiming for,” she said. “I think it’s better that way. I’m trying to move a little bit differently this year than I have in the past. I think it’s working so far.

“So I’m going to keep it a little bit secretive,” said Biles, adding “not yet” when asked if she could share whether those goals included Paris.

Certainly Biles, who has won 19 World Championships gold medals, has shown before she can come back.

She won four straight US all-around titles from 2013-16, then took a break after her dominant performance at the Rio de Janeiro Games before returning to win two more in 2018-19.

After the Covid pandemic wiped out the 2020 championships and pushed back the Olympics, she won a national all-around title before the drama of her highly anticipated Tokyo campaign.

Her “amazing” reception from fans in San Jose, Biles said, was a morale-building reminder that “everybody in here believes in me” as she heads to next month’s training camp where the US women’s team for Antwerp will be chosen.

“So I just need to start believing in myself a little bit more,” she said.

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