ST. LOUIS -- Simone Biles’ cruised through the U.S. championships this weekend on her express ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
The three-time defending U.S. all-around gymnastics champion easily won a fourth on Sunday. Her score of 125 points outpaced second-place Aly Raisman by 3.9 points. Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian rounded out the top five.
Biles, the 4-foot-8 phenom, also posted the top scores over two nights of competition in the balance beam, floor exercise and vault. She now has 11 national titles since joining the senior level in 2013.
Biles, who was named USA Gymnastics Athlete of the Year after Sunday’s competition, became the first woman to win four U.S. all-around titles in a row since Joan Moore Gnat in 1971-74.
Next up the top U.S. women move on to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on July 8 and 10 in San Jose, California. It will effectively be a competition to determine which four gymnasts join Biles at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games that begin in August.
The Spring, Texas, native has outpaced not just her U.S. counterparts but all of gymnastics over the past three years.
Biles, 19, came into the second night of competition with a 2.45-point all-around lead and quickly began building upon it. Starting on floor exercise, an event in which she’s the three-time defending world champion, she powered through a difficult routine to score 16.05. It was just short of the 16.1 she scored on Friday, but well above the field. Raisman, the defending Olympic champion in the event, finished second with a best score of 15.7.
Biles next moved on to the vault, an event in which she’s finished top-three in the world in each of the past three seasons, and made her 2.5-twist Amanar vault look easy. Only a small hop on the landing prevented her from getting a perfect 10 execution score. Instead she had to settle for 9.9 on execution and a score of 16.2.
From there, Biles coasted through her final two events, uneven bars and floor exercise, with scores that were slightly down from the first night. It was no matter. No one came close.
The other U.S. gymnasts joke that Biles is in her own class, so second place is still the winner.
Raisman is securing her grip on that position.
The 22-year-old is rounding back into Olympic contender form after returning to the sport last season. She had the second-best scores on the weekend in beam, floor and vault, and is a clear favorite to join Biles in Rio.
Hernandez, 16, competing in her first national championships at the senior level, made a strong case as well. She finished third or tied for third in all four events.
Douglas, the defending Olympic all-around champion, returned to competition with Raisman last season, but after a strong start to the 2016 season she struggled in St. Louis. Her all-around score of 117.8 was more than seven points behind Biles — a big mountain to climb if Douglas is to successfully defend her title in Rio.
Ashton Locklear won the remaining event title, uneven bars, with a two-day score of 31.3. She’s aiming to make the Olympic team as a specialist in bars and balance beam, though she faces strong competition in Madison Kocian. Kocian, who finished in a four-way tie for the bars world title last season, scored 31.15 on the weekend to take second.
MyKayla Skinner is another gymnast aiming to make the Olympic team on the strength of two events. She placed second in vault at 30.6 and tied for third on floor at 29.6.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.