|Simone Biles competes on balance beam at the 2015 AT&T American Cup on March 7, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.|
ARLINGTON, Texas – Simone Biles swamped the women’s competition Saturday at the 2015 AT&T American Cup, reserving the drama for the men’s all-around championship and the runner-up among the women.
Biles won all four events to take the women’s American Cup, an all-around competition that is part of the FIG World Cup Series, by nearly 4 ½ points a week before her 18th birthday.
Women’s second place wasn’t decided until the final gymnast in the final event: floor exercise. U.S. teammate MyKayla Skinner entered the final rotation in third place but posted a score of 14.933 to jump over Venezuela’s Jessica Lopez and claim second place. Skinner totaled 57.832 to Biles’ 62.299. Italy’s Erika Fasana (56.633) ended up jumping Lopez too to finish fourth.
Skinner, an 18-year-old from Gilbert, Arizona, said, “I did pretty much what I came here to do. Floor’s usually my strongest event. I know that I can go out there and do the best I can. I can attack it, because I feel really strong and confident.”
Everything seemed to be Biles’ strongest event.
Despite an anxious moment on the balance beam — “I like tweaked my back on my layout step-out,” she said — she still finished with a score 0.8 better than the runner-up. Biles’ 15.066 was her lowest score, behind 16.033 in the vault, 16.000 on the floor and 15.200 on the uneven bars.
“I was most pleased with bars, and surprised, because I thought there was no way I could get a 15,” said Biles, the two-time defending world all-around champion. “So whenever I saw it, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really cool!’ So I was really proud of myself.”
In the men’s competition, 20-year-old Donnell Whittenburg from Baltimore led through the first five events, but by just .035 points.
During the final event, the high bar, American Cup defending champion and 2012 U.S. Olympian Sam Mikulak pumped up Whittenburg and the crowd. Mikulak stood at the end of the mats, clapping and shouting encouragement: “Let’s get it, Don Don!”
When the stoic Whittenburg finished his routine, he raised his hand, motioned for the crowd to cheer and pointed to acknowledge Mikulak. However, Whittenburg’s 14.366 wasn’t enough. Oleg Verniaiev of the Ukraine scored 15.066 and Ryohei Kato of Japan had 15.133.
They both surpassed Whittenburg. Verniaiev was the champion at 90.597, Kato second at 90.098 and Whittenburg at 89.932. After a slow start, Mikulak rallied to finish fourth at 88.598.
“I didn’t really look at the scores,” Whittenburg said, “I just knew I was in the top three. The high bar’s a little bit of a struggle just to get the difficulty up where I think it needs to be.”
The difficulty of his high-bar routine was 6.200. No one had a lower difficulty in the event; the highest was 7.300.
“I was kind of happy with floor,” he said. “I stuck a lot of passes in that routine.”
Biles said nearly 200 people came from her hometown of Spring, Texas, for the American Cup. She turned to point to their section on the second level of AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
“That’s my best friend, Katelyn, screaming,” Biles said.
Skinner, competing in her first American Cup, was most pleased about her personal-best 14.266 on the uneven bars. She has a high standard to shoot for in Biles, who appears to be in a class of her own with a little more than a year to go before the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“It definitely pushes me, makes me work harder and definitely makes me a better competitor,” Skinner said.
Mikulak, 22, of Corona del Mar, California, was seventh in the field of nine men after stumbling in the floor exercise and slipping on the pommel horse.
“You could either sulk and be sad and upset, or you can go out and have fun. That’s always been my mentality,” he said. “What’s the point of living the next four events of being miserable when I could go out and put on a show and do what I do best?”
Mikulak won the vault (15.333) and high bar (15.466). Whittenburg had taken first on the floor (15.400) and rings (15.500). Verniaiev’s 15.900 on the parallel bars was the highest score in any men’s event Saturday. Belarus’ Andrey Likhovitskiy scored highest on the pommel horse (14.966).
Verniaiev completed a sweep of the three-event FIG World Cup Series with his American Cup victory. Lopez was the women’s world cup overall champion even though she fell from second to fourth Saturday with 13.266 on the floor.
The announced attendance was 10,383. With Friday’s crowd of 3,226 for the Nastia Liukin Cup, the 2-day total of 13,609 trailed only New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2012.
Lary Bump is a reporter from the Dallas area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.