INDIANAPOLIS – Simone Biles was so good in her pursuit of a third national title that she surprised even herself.
“It’s really exciting; I keep shocking myself every year, it’s weird,” she said of her latest achievement.
Biles became the first American woman in 23 years to win three all-around national titles Saturday night at the 2015 P&G Gymnastics Championships.
The last woman to win three titles, Kim Zmeskal, did so leading into her first Olympic appearance, a feat Biles is now looking to emulate at next year’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“It’s amazing just because I know she took the same path and it led her to the Olympics, so I feel pretty good knowing I’ve achieved what she’s achieved,” Biles said of the 1991 world all-around champion.
Biles won her latest U.S. crown with a two-day score of 124.100, an impressive 4.95 points higher than second-place finisher Maggie Nichols. For comparison, her last two U.S. wins were by margins of 0.2 points in 2013 and 4.25 points in 2014.
Her win was highlighted by a near-perfect 9.9 execution score on vault.
Clearly, the gap between Biles and everyone else in the country – or world, for that matter – is rapidly increasing.
“It’s truly (a matter of wanting) to be the best version of me and I don’t want to replicate others,” Biles said. “Because a lot of people compare me to other people a bunch, but I just want to go out there and I just want to be Simone.”
Early on in her career (when she first reached the senior level two years ago), it was hard not to compare Biles to others. Her body type was compared to 2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist Shawn Johnson – more powerful than artistic. When she won her first world title, there was a question of whether she was a flash in the pan, like those before her who had won world titles in a post-Olympic year but failed to maintain their greatness and shine at the Olympics three years later.
Now, any comparisons have gone out the window. Biles has already one-upped Zmeskal, one of her many idols in the sport, by earning two world all-around titles, joining seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller as the only two U.S. women with two world titles.
The 17-year-old Texan already owns the title for the most world championship gold medals by a U.S. woman – six – and is one medal away from tying Alicia Sacramone for the most world championship medals by a U.S. woman.
And in just over two months’ time, Biles could become the only American – male or female – to earn three world all-around titles.
If Biles wants to do that, though, she will have to first focus on controlling her nerves, something that got to her in the first half of this week’s competition.
First, she uncharacteristically fell off balance beam in Wednesday’s practice session. And not just once. The reigning beam world champion fell off the apparatus somewhere between three and five times, by her count. She cried, and then tried to get over it by the time competition rolled around Thursday night, but she was still shaky on the event. That night, she also fell on her final tumbling pass on floor and trailed Nichols through the first three rotations.
“I was just really disappointed in myself, and was like, ‘OK, you don’t have to try that hard.’ Maybe I was trying a little bit too hard to be perfect,” she said.
She also admitted she was stressed this week because of the hype surrounding her going into the event and the popular question of whether she could three-peat.
Biles would start her night on beam Saturday, earning a 15.9 – 1.1 higher than her score from two days earlier and good for the highest beam score of the competition.
“Beam is a little bit stressful to start on and a little bit rough sometimes, so I was glad I was able to redeem myself and hit a routine I knew I could hit just like in practice and I just let everything go and put it out there,” she said.
Also glad was Martha Karolyi, women’s national team coordinator and one third of the selection committee that will choose the world championship team.
“That’s the Simone I know,” Karolyi said as she placed the all-around gold medal around Biles’ neck.
“She was like, ‘I want to give Simone her medal,’ so I think it made her happy that I brought out the Simone she knows, not the nervous and worried one,” Biles recalled.
While Biles and Nichols – who has impressed Karolyi after coming back from dislocating her kneecap less than one year ago – are virtual locks for the world team that will compete in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 23-Nov. 1, the remaining four spots are up for grabs.
Among those vying for them are 2012 Olympic team champions Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross.
Ross, the 2014 world all-around bronze medalist, finished 10th this week and nabbed the last spot on the national team from which the world team is chosen.
Douglas, competing in her first nationals since before winning Olympic all-around gold at the London 2012 Games, finished fifth, falling two spots from her third-place position at the halfway mark.
Raisman, who is also making her return to the sport this year, finished third, 0.60 points behind Nichols. It marked her fifth consecutive bronze medal at U.S. championships, which she says is good luck for her.
She always seems to peak at the right time, though, having earned bronze on beam at the 2011 worlds and gold on floor and bronze on beam at the 2012 Olympics.
“It would be crazy,” Raisman said at the thought of winning a world all-around medal after having finished fourth at both the 2011 world championships and 2012 Olympics. “It’s one of those things where I try not to think about it because it feels like it’s crazy to even fathom or think about, but obviously I would love to be able to medal on floor and beam, and I try to take it one day at a time and not think about it because otherwise it gets a little bit too overwhelming.”