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A New Champion: Simone Biles

By Brandon Penny | Aug. 18, 2013, 11:19 a.m. (ET)

The top three women's all-around gymnasts stand atop the podium at the P&G Gymnastics Championships Aug. 17, 2013 in Hartford, Conn. (L-R: Kyla Ross, silver; Simone Biles, gold; Brenna Dowell, bronze)

Simone Biles performs on balance beam at P&G Gymnastics
Championships Aug. 17, 2013 in Hartford, Conn.

Hartford, Conn. – Simone Biles should have been thrilled. She should have been jumping for joy. After all, she was crowned the women’s gymnastics all-around national champion at the P&G Gymnastics Championships Saturday night, in a country that has produced all but two of the past nine world or Olympic all-around champions.

But the 16-year-old remained her calm and collected self, brushing off her impressive win, saying it was “no big deal.”

“I was excited, but I was happy for everyone else,” Biles said. “I thought even if I did come in second, third — everybody looked good, so I was happy.”

The Spring, Texas, native sprang — quite literally, in her case — onto the senior scene this year, and in a big way. With her trademark leaps and epic height she gets on her vault and floor exercise routines, Biles grabbed second in the all-around in March’s American Cup before taking first later that month in the City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy and then finishing second at a USA-Romania-Germany tri-meet in Germany.

The only blemish on her senior debut season was last month’s Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago, where she struggled so much on her first three events that she withdrew before the final rotation to avoid aggravating an injury.

U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi was pleased with how Biles bounced back in Hartford.

“She proved that she’s a good competitor because she physically wasn’t in her top, top, top shape,” Karolyi said. “She had an injury previously and was fighting her way back. I’m sure everybody knows that the Classic wasn’t her best competition, which was just three weeks ago. And in this three weeks, we had great progress on consistency, and if we can achieve the same amount of progress in the remaining month before the world championship, I think we will be in a good place.”

Following the Secret Classic, Karolyi spoke to Biles’ coach, Aimee Boorman at Bannon’s Gymnastix Inc., and found out Biles was struggling in training. Karolyi invited Biles to the National Team Training Center in Huntsville, Texas, where Karolyi was able to watch Biles train and help her mentally stay focused.

“I reassured her about her potential, but also reminded her that the talent by itself doesn’t make the results,” Karolyi said. “You have to have very diligent and very consistent, disciplined work on a daily basis to be able to build up your confidence level. If you have that confidence, that’s the only way you will be able to perform in competitions.”

The next step for Biles will likely be the 2013 FIG World Championships, Sept. 30-Oct. 6 in Antwerp, Belgium — the four-person U.S. team is expected to be named following a two-day competition at the National Training Center on Sept. 17. Should Biles make the team — and she should, barring injury — her goal is to finish in the top-three in the all-around. If she wins, she will be following in the footsteps of recent U.S. gymnastics greats Chellsie Memmel (’05), Shawn Johnson (’07), Bridget Sloan (’09) and Jordyn Wieber (’11). The world championships are held every non-Olympic year, but the event after an Olympic year only has individual competitions.

Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney, the two active members of the U.S. “Fierce Five” team that won team gold last summer in London, join Biles as shoe-ins for that team, based on their performances Thursday and Saturday at the P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Ross, 16, was the only Fierce Five member to head right back into the gym following the Games, and it showed.

After the two-night competition this week, she finished two tenths of a point behind Biles in the all-around, and finished ahead of Biles on both balance beam and uneven bars, securing the national titles on those events. With an Olympic Games under her belt, Ross put her experience to use and exuded a clear sense of confidence, maturity and artistry in many of her routines this week that the younger gymnasts are still lacking.

“Kyla Ross a very classy gymnast,” Karolyi said. “She is an extremely good technician, has excellent lines and is a beautiful girl. … For her to come back the year after the Olympics, she proved her dedication for the sport. Certainly it’s not extremely easy, but she’s handling it very, very well, and I think she will be appreciated of the right value.”

Maroney, who also claimed silver on vault in London, left no room for meme-worthy “not impressed” faces with her performance in Hartford.

“I’m impressed with tonight!” Maroney joked Saturday.

After roughly six months back in the gym, Maroney only competed on floor and vault — a wise move considering she won national titles on both events Saturday night. She said she will eventually return to being an all-arounder, but her focus right now is contributing on those two events at world championships. Maroney will hope to defend her 2011 world title on vault and also seek redemption from her disappointing Olympic silver medal after sitting down on one of her landings in London.

And yes, she explained, she is still asked to do the “not impressed” face she made during the medal ceremony in London, and she does not mind making it more than one year later. In fact, she wouldn’t change the past even if she could.

“It definitely changed my life," Maroney said. “I’ve thought about it a couple times — what would have happened if I didn’t fall and I won the gold medal? If somebody could let me go back and win the gold medal, I would say no thank you. I’m very happy with my life now. I learned a lot from it, and doing the ’not impressed‘ face is like me in a nutshell. I’m not perfect. … Even if you fall down, you have to get back up, and that’s what I wanted to show everybody.”

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