Biles leads US championships


Simone Biles took another step on a comeback trail pointing toward the Paris Olympics Friday as she seized the women’s all-around halfway lead at the US Gymnastics Championships in San Jose, California.

The 26-year-old four-time Olympic champion highlighted the first night of women’s competition with a spectacular Yurchenko double pike vault, the vault so difficult that no other woman has performed it in competition.

She led the all-around standings with a total of 59.300 points, with world all-around silver medallist Shilese Jones second on 56.750 and Skyle Blakely third on 55.700.

Biles is now in position to make yet more history in just the second event of her return from a two-year break, which followed her dramatic withdrawal from multiple events at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

With a win on Sunday, when women complete their second day of competition, Biles would become the first man or woman to win eight US national all-around titles, breaking the record set by Alfred Jochim in 1933 and matched by Biles in 2021.

“I just have personal goals that I want to meet and just keep pushing for,” Biles told broadcaster NBC of what’s driving her. “So that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Even before the medals are handed out, Biles has clearly stamped herself as a contender for the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, next month and, by extension, the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The top women at these championships will be among eight invited to a World Championships selection training camp where the US team for Antwerp will be decided.

Although she earned a balance beam bronze in Tokyo, Biles’s Games in 2021 will be remembered for her decision to pull out of most of her events as she battled the “twisties” – the dangerous phenomenon when gymnasts can’t judge their position in the air.

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

Biles has said she remains focused on her own mental well being, but since her return this month – starting at the US Classic on August 5 – she’s looked like the same ferocious competitor who won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to go with 19 world titles.

Biles launched her night on the balance beam, shrugging off a slight wobble on her mount and another on a turn to complete an assured routine that earned 14.450 points and put her atop the all-around standings.

Her floor exercise electrified the crowd at the SAP Center as Biles soared through powerful tumbling runs. Too much power led to a big step out of bounds, a blip in a routine that earned 14.800 points and left her tied atop the standings after two of four apparatus with Jones — who earned 14.900 points for an outstanding uneven bar routine.

Then came Biles’s stunning vault, for which she earned 9.8 for execution and a massive score of 15.700.

She capped her night with a fluid performance on the uneven bars, where her score of 14.350 was the third-best of the night.

“I think beam started off a little bit rough, but that’s kind of to be expected – you get your nerve sout of the way and then after that it was pretty smooth sailing,” Biles said.

“I’m pretty happy with the overall meet today.”

While Biles’s return has drawn massive scrutiny, she’s up against a strong field this week.

The event marks the first time that two Olympic all-around gold medallists have competed in the same US championships.

Suni Lee, who won the all-around gold in Tokyo, is competing in just balance beam and vault as she continues to contend with a kidney ailment that prevents her from training at full strength every day.

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