It was a familiar sight inside Dickies Arena Sunday (6 June) at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic champion, once again found her way to the top of the podium, claiming her seventh U.S. title and extending an unbeaten streak in the all-around that dates back to 2013. Her seven titles are the most by any American woman. Previously, she was tied with Clara Schroth Lombady, who won titles in the late 40s and early 50s. Alfred Jochim, 1925-30, 1933, is the only other U.S. gymnast to claim seven U.S. titles.
"I feel like I did try to enjoy it because it could be one of my last championships that I'll attend," Biles said. "But it's also the road to Tokyo, and after this we have trials, so we just have to really embrace the moment."
Biles earned a two-day total 119.650, followed by Suni Lee (114.950). Biles' training partner Jordan Chiles finished third, scoring 114.450.
That trio have begun to separate themselves in the race to make the U.S. team that will enter Tokyo as the heavy favourites to claim their third-straight Olympic team gold medal.
Biles' victory was never in doubt, leading since her 15.800 on vault in the first rotation Friday.
Sunday night, she solid on all four events, totalling 60.100 points in the all-around. She earned no score lower than 14.700 on any event, and claimed the vault, balance beam, and floor exercise titles in addition to the all-around.
Biles' dominance has become second nature, but it's so rare that the last woman to win three titles (let alone seven) was Kim Zmeskal in the early 90s. Lombady and Jochim's victories both came more than six decades ago.
"I feel like every single championship stands out for a different reason, but this one stands out specifically because it's the road to Tokyo," said Biles. "We came out here, and we did what we were supposed to."
With just weeks to go until the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Biles looks on track to make history nearly every day of the Games. She's already the most decorated gymnast - male or female - at the World Championships. She needs four medals to pass Vitaly Scherbo as the most decorated gymnast at both the Olympic Games and worlds. Five gold medals in Tokyo, something she achieved at the last World Championships in 2019, would tie her with Larisa Latynina's nine Olympic gymnastics gold medal record.
A clearer picture
Both Lee and Chiles entered competition in Ft. Worth looking to put to rest questions about who would likely join Biles on the U.S.'s four-woman team in Tokyo.
For Lee, it was the first time since October 2019 that she competed on all four apparatus. An ailing Achilles tendon has hampered her in the three events she's entered in 2021.
But, over the two days of competition, Lee put any doubts to rest, improving from Friday to Sunday's competition, and she'll leave Texas right where she left off 20 or so months ago: a favourite.
"I think this was a really good confidence booster because I wasn't even at my full potential on floor," said Lee. "It definitely helped my confidence going in [to trials] because I know that I don't have to be like at 100 percent to be able to still be in the top two. I'm really proud of myself."
Likewise, Chiles has proven - again - that her strong performances at the Winter Cup in February and recent U.S. Classic were no fluke. The 20-year-old has scored more than 57.000 points in the all-around in three of her four appearances this season. That's a huge improvement from her last U.S. nationals where she topped out at 55.500.
"It just all hit me that I'm like so close because if I looked at myself in the past, I don't even think I would be where I am right now," Chiles said of her reaction after hitting eight routines over two days of competition at the championships.
While the trio of Biles, Lee and Chiles seems the likeliest now, the battle for the fourth and final place in Tokyo at the U.S. Olympic trials in three weeks is likely between half a dozen or so women. Surprise fourth-place finisher Emma Malabuyo further complicates that fight, with the likes of Leanne Wong, Skye Blakely and Riley McCusker in contention.