At this weekend’s U.S. championships, those abnormal nerves disappeared.
With her first step back out of the way, Biles felt and looked like her old self, winning her eighth all-around national title with a two-day score of 118.450. Biles posted a 59.300 on Friday and followed up with a 59.150 on Sunday — without competing her Yurchenko double pike on vault, which commands a massive score because of its unparalleled difficulty. Biles is the first American gymnast to win eight national titles and, at 26, is the oldest woman to win. Linda Metheny-Mulvihill, who won at 24 in 1971, had been the oldest champion.
“[At] Classics, I was like: ‘Oh, God, I don’t want to do this. I feel like I’m going to throw up,’ ” Biles said. “This one, I was like: ‘Oh, wow, championships came so soon. We’re ready to compete. We’re prepared.’ I still think there were some nerves, obviously, which is normal going into each and every event. But I knew I was capable of it.”
Shilese Jones had a nearly flawless weekend, making just one major mistake across her eight routines as she placed second with a score of 114.550. Leanne Wong, who is keeping up with her elite training while competing collegiately at Florida, took third place at 111.100 and was by far the most successful of the gymnasts taking part in both elite and NCAA competition.
Biles sailed through her first three rotations Sunday, with her trademark high difficulty and clean execution on vault, bars and beam. Coach Laurent Landi said Biles “stung her ankle” on vault Friday, which is why she didn’t attempt the Yurchenko double pike. But she didn’t need the difficult vault to cement her spot atop the field.
“Just decided to play it safe and try to heal the ankle,” Landi said. “She did everything else — and the best floor routine I’ve seen her do.”
Biles began that routine merely needing to score above 11.500 to secure the all-around title. In typical Biles fashion, she blew that out of the water.
The 6.8 difficulty score for her routine made it the hardest in the competition. During a 90-second session with dance elements and four tumbling passes, there are many opportunities for deductions by the judges, but Biles received an execution score of 8.600 — making her score for the routine a competition-best 15.400 — that reflected her command of both power and artistry.
“You can’t teach this kind of competition level,” Landi said. “It’s a skill that she has to compete so [confidently] at such a high level. The routines are not easy. Maybe some people think it’s easier for her, but it’s not easier for her.”
Some floor routines are so engaging that the crowd claps along to the music, but Biles’s tumbling awed the crowd into near-silence — which made the eruption when she finished only that much more explosive. Much of the crowd gave Biles a standing ovation, and when the cheers dipped after she climbed down from the podium, Biles’s teammate Jordan Chiles waved her arms to bring the noise back up again.
“Every time I come out here, I feel like I’m in a fever dream,” Biles said. “I feel like nothing’s real. … [My teammates] were like, ‘You stuck every pass.’ I was like, ‘I did?’ I’m just in the moment, but it also just doesn’t feel real for some reason. I just seriously can’t believe I’m out here competing again. I just really can’t, so I’m proud of myself for that.”
Biles isn’t just competing again — she has picked back up where she left off before a potentially dangerous mental block known in gymnastics as “the twisties” forced her to withdraw from several events in Tokyo. Over her 12 routines at the first two meets of her comeback, she hasn’t made any major mistakes, and their difficulty far outstrips that of most of her competition.
“If she does this at worlds or the Olympic Games, she’ll win,” Landi said. “That’s all. Just need to try to keep her as healthy as possible.”
While Biles said she’s keeping her personal goals close to the vest, she’s not hiding the fact that her eyes are on a trip to Paris next summer.
“I kind of proved to myself that I can still go out there and compete at the same level as before,” Biles said. “As long as — no, I wouldn’t say as long as I can keep it up I’ll still be out here, because absolutely not. But I’m going to give it one more go, and then we’ll see.”