The expectations keep growing bigger and heavier for Simone Biles, but she keeps performing as if she’s light as air.
Biles won her fourth straight U.S. gymnastics title in dominating style Sunday night at the P&G Championships and continued to pave a golden path toward the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she could win five medals.
“I did hit all eight routines like I wanted to so it’s another steppingstone to the Olympics,” Biles said.
Biles, a three-time world champion, recorded the top two-round combined scores on vault, balance beam and floor exercise and won with a total of 125 points by an impressive 3.9-point margin to become the first American woman since Joan Moore Gnat in 1971-74 to win four straight titles.
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“With this performance she would crush everybody in Rio,” NBC commentator Tim Daggett said. “She’s that much better than everybody else.”
Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, members of the Fierce Five who won team gold in 2012, solidified their chance of making a second Olympic team and adding to their medal collection. The steely-nerved Raisman finished second, and 2012 Olympic all-around champion Douglas was far back in fourth – 7.2 points behind Biles -- but proved that her comeback is solidly on track.
Bronze medalist Laurie Hernandez has emerged as a near-lock for the five-woman Olympic team. Hernandez, a 16-year-old from New Jersey, oozes energy and showed her usual crowd-pleasing flair on floor exercise.
“I’ve been working hard and this shows I can really keep up with these guys and help the team,” Hernandez said. “This puts me a step closer to something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid.”
The fifth spot is up for grabs and will be determined at the July 8-10 Olympic Trials in San Jose, California. Madison Kocian of Dallas placed fifth and demonstrated her strength on parallel bars with a 15.7.
In her last stint as national team coordinator Marta Karolyi holds the keys and she never plays favorites. Karolyi, wife of former team maestro Bela Karolyi, emphasizes “readiness” when she picks team members, which requires thoughtful strategizing given the Olympics’ three-up, three-count format. The U.S. will be the favorite in Rio.
“You want the girls to be very consistent,” Karolyi said. “We’re not necessarily looking for four-event all-around athletes. We look for three strong performers on each event.”
Biles, 19, of Spring, Texas, wasn’t flawless. She was short on a handstand and her legs separated on uneven bars, her weakest event. She bobbled the landing of a back layout on beam.
“My legs are just so dead,” she complained to her coach Aimee Boorman after not sticking her dismount off beam. “That was like the worst routine all week.”
Douglas, who took a couple years off after London and now trains at Ohio State, improved her scores from Friday on vault (14.900) and beam (15.050) but wasn’t as clean on parallel bars and floor and was somewhat subdued afterward.
Raisman was second only to Biles on vault (15.500) and floor (15.700).
“Everything felt effortless so everything is coming together,” Raisman said. “I’ve been working so hard I felt like I was going to die. Some days I’m so tired I’ve had to ask my dad to come pick me up. These meets are so stressful and exhausting you block it out and go on the next one.”
In other news, Miami’s Danell Leyva was named one of three replacement athletes on the men’s Olympic five-man team. He will train and travel with the team and could compete if any member withdraws due to injury. The two Hamm brothers withdrew in 2008 and two replacements moved up.
But for Leyva being named an alternate was a consolation prize after he got the disappointing news Saturday night that he was not chosen for a second Olympics by the selection committee.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “But I have to be ready because in gymnastics you never know what might happen.”
Leyva, the 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist – only the third American man to win an Olympic all-around medal – was surprised after his solid two-round performance at Olympic Trials that he was left off the team.
“I was in disbelief,” Leyva said, adding that his stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez was also shocked. “After they told us, I was shaking and couldn’t stop shaking. Yin was upset but he helped me calm down.
“The depth on this team is amazing. I hit all six events both nights and was very happy with how I competed in the plan we made, but I’ve got no say on the selection committee.”
Leyva’s poor scores at the national meet three weeks ago hurt his overall numbers, national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said. Leyva was recovering from dog bites he sustained when trying to break up a fight between his pet American bulldogs but said he was determined to compete at nationals.
“It happened, there was nothing else I could do,” he said. “I can’t regret that.”