BOSTON -- The note card read 60. If Simone Biles hit all four of her routines in an all-around gymnastics competition, then under the new code of points, she and her coaches believed she could score 60 points.
Biles kept that note card in her locker ahead of last month’s GK U.S. Classic, her first gymnastics competition since the Olympic Games Rio 2016. She won the U.S. Classic easily, but she also fell on uneven bars and ended with an all-around score of 58.700 points.
So the note card remained.
It was there earlier this week, when she left her Texas gym to fly to Boston. But after the first day of competition on Friday at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, which are part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, she can take it down.
Biles, despite twice going out of bounds on floor exercise, scored 60.100 points.
So even if she goes home tonight and writes 61 on a new note card, that might not last long either.
“If today happens again, but I don’t go out of bounds, I think that’s achievable,” she said.
Of course, Biles has scored in the 60s before. Her winning all-around score at the Rio Games surpassed 62, and in four previous national championships she failed to break 60 just once in eight all-arounds. But with a new code of points, she’s still learning where her routines score.
Her position amongst the competition, however, couldn’t be clearer.
Biles ended the first night in Boston with a massive 3.1-point margin over the next-best gymnast. And who was that? Only the reigning world champion, Morgan Hurd. When the scores are combined with those on Sunday, it’s practically inconceivable that Biles could be caught.
“It would take near perfection,” said Hurd, “and an increase of difficulty.”
When talking about scores, Biles’ coach Laurent Landi makes clear that today’s scores can’t be compared with those from the past Olympic quad. The code has changed; elements that were worth a certain amount of difficulty then are worth something else now. It’s something they’re all still figuring out.
“But the program (today) is a little bit harder,” Landi said.
That Biles, who won three world all-around titles before winning four gold medals in Rio, is competing harder gymnastics today — having ended her post-Olympic break less than a year ago — is almost inconceivable.
But just like her old scores, Biles’ ability has proven to be incomparable.
An energetic crowd at TD Garden witnessed that Friday.
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Gravity does not apply to @Simone_Biles. 🚀 #USGymChamps | #SCS2018 pic.twitter.com/fl8QzJtKT1— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) August 18, 2018
A women’s gymnastics meet is something of a four-ring circus, with the activity on the apparatuses staggered just enough to highlight the best routines for the TV audience.
The chaos stopped for Biles.
Sporting a sleek black-and-gold leotard with sparkles that could be seen for miles, the 21-year-old Biles bounded into her first tumbling pass on floor exercise with combined athleticism and body control that no one in recent gymnastics history has come close to. Rising into the air for her difficult double twisting double layout, Biles returned to the floor in total control — and the hint of a satisfied smile.
Though her powerful tumbling resulted in two later passes ending out of bounds, her score of 14.450 was the only one of the night to exceed 14 on floor exercise. As for the mistakes?
“These are the little details that we work for the last couple weeks before a big competition,” Landi said. “For me, this meet is just a step toward the world championships.”
From floor Biles went on to vault, where she spun through the air with such ease on her Cheng vault that her feet came down softly, as if they were sinking into a memory foam mattress.
No matter that this vault would be the highest score of the night at 15.600, Biles was soon racing down the runway again, this time to perform another extremely difficult vault, an Amanar, which she nearly stuck as well. And this score of 15.450 was bettered only by Jade Carey, who last year finished second in the world in the event.
But those results were hardly surprising, as Biles won both events in Rio.
If there’s one reason to believe that Biles might be even better now than ever before, it’s what happened next.
Though weakness is a relative term when it comes to Biles, the uneven bars have always been her weakest event. It’s the one event she didn’t medal on in Rio, and even in her return last month she stumbled on the apparatus. That was frustrating, she said, because had been eager to show what she’s learned from Laurent and his wife Cecile Landi, who are renowned bars coaches.
On Friday, she did.
✅ 3.1 lead after day one— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) August 18, 2018
✅ Highest score on every apparatus
✅ Best all-around score in the world since her own in 2016 @Simone_Biles ✅s in with #TeamUSA 🇺🇸. #USGymChamps #SCS2018 pic.twitter.com/kSU4i62ILF
No longer laboring through parts of her routine like she did at times last quad, Biles has added an element of grace into her bars. It’s still not her strongest event, and there were a few notable elements on which she can clean up her form, but consider: At the 2016 Olympic trials she finished fourth on uneven bars. On Friday, she posted the best score of the night at 14.85.
“That’s good enough for me,” Laurent Landi said. “Frankly, if she does this for the next two years, I’ll take it.”
The evening ended on balance beam, an event which Biles was favored to win but finished third in Rio. Though she had to check her balance during a triple wolf turn early on, she powered through the rest of her routine with that incomparable ease, dismounting with a seemingly impossible number of flips and spins through the air.
When she landed with a small hop, she looked relieved, maybe just a little bit tired. For the fourth time in four tries, Biles posted the night’s best score.
And finally, at least for now, the Simone show was over.
“You can’t not watch her,” said Hurd. “Your eyes are just automatically drawn. Good thing we weren’t going at the same time.”
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.