KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Simone Biles messed around and got a triple-double. And just about everything else too on her way to a sixth U.S. women’s gymnastics title.
The Olympic champion began her preparation for the 2020 Games by drilling her boundary-pushing triple-twisting, double-flip (aka the “triple-double”) at the end of her first tumbling run on floor exercise Sunday night, the exclamation point of another dazzling performance that showcased just how wide the gulf between Biles and the rest of the world has become.
Biles had a two-day all-around total of 118.500, nearly five points clear of Sunisa Lee in second and almost eight points ahead of Grace McCallum in third. The 22-year-old took the top scores on floor, vault and balance beam and placed third on bars, bouncing back from a sloppy set Friday that left the greatest gymnast on the planet and admitted perfectionist seething.
There were no muttered curse words this time. Only a borderline sarcastic jump for joy after she finished off a typically brilliant night by drilling her dismount on uneven bars to extend an unbeaten streak that began at the 2013 national championships. Biles gave coach Laurent 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.
Two days removed from an off day — at least by her impossibly high standards — Biles responded with four sublime rotations that showcased the mix of technical precision, audacious ambition and charismatic showmanship that have become her trademark.
The opening night began with Biles shorting her attempt at the triple-double, a miscue that Landi admitted “bled” from one routine to the next. For any other gymnast, it would have been the meet of their lives. For Biles, it wasn’t nearly good enough.
She promised to be better in the finals. She was more than that. She was spectacular. It’s the challenge of pushing herself to the edge of her remarkable abilities that brought her back to the sport a year ago. Her pursuit is symbolized by the idea to include the triple-double — a skill never done before by a woman in competition — in her floor routine.
Mathematically, she didn’t need to add it to maintain her advantage over the rest of the world. Instead, she did it just to see if she could. After expressing some concern during warm-ups about the corner of the floor where she would complete the skill, maintenance workers replaced the entire covering just minutes before the event began.
Biles responded by nailing it and keeping her feet just inside the boundary as the packed arena roared. A radiant smile followed, quickly followed by a rock steady set on beam and a pair of vaults that looked remarkably easy even though only a handful of athletes on the planet even attempt them.
There were no major errors during her bars set on Friday. It was just messy, filled with uncharacteristic form breaks. Not this time. Her 14.750 was the second-best on the event all night.
Only Lee, a 16-year-old, was better. Lee solidified her chances at joining Biles on the five-woman world championship team when it’s selected next month by backing up an impressive opening night by shaking off a hop off the beam to maintain her grasp on second.
McCallum, who won team gold with Biles at the 2018 world championships, surged from ninth to third by putting up the second-highest all-around total on Sunday. Morgan Hurd, the 2017 world champion, rebounded from a rocky floor exercise on Friday that dropped her to eighth overall to zoom up to fourth.
Riley McCusker, a world championship team member last fall, withdrew halfway through on Sunday due to an illness.