Like a superhero, Biles blazes to U.S. Classic win

By Blythe Lawrence

LOUISVILLE — Like any good superhero, Simone Biles didn’t forget her cape as she swept off with the women’s all-around title at the GK U.S. Classic Saturday night.

Entering the KFC Yum! Center to begin the competition, Biles and her teammates from the World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, used the chords of their black windbreakers to tie them around their shoulders, which gave their warmups a distinctly superhero-ish air as they were introduced to the crowd.

The reason was practical — the WCC gymnasts’ first event was uneven bars, and they didn’t want the hassle of pulling sleeves over the hand grips they had already put on — but it also served as a symbolic reminder of Biles’s mind-boggling supremacy in the sport she has dominated for most of the past six years.

With her four-for-four performance inside the KFC Yum! Center Saturday, Biles built up her legend just a little more. The 22-year-old was excellent on bars, where she nearly scraped the ceiling on her double twisting double tuck dismount, and controlled on balance beam, where she navigated her complex series of flips, leaps and turns with professional calm. Her 15.650 for her complex Cheng vault was the highest score recorded on any event.

In tallying 60 points even in the all-around, the Olympic champion’s only notable error came on floor, where she flew over the boundary of the 40-by-40 competition mat on her new tumbling pass, the double layout half out named The Biles, coupled with a front layout to at the end as a kind of exclamation point. Despite the 0.3 penalty for going out of bounds, Biles’s 15.000 on floor was the mark to beat on floor by almost a full point.

“At least I didn’t fly completely off the floor, and that’s what I was worried about,” Biles said. After all, even superheroes can have difficulty controlling their powers.

Around the arena, superheroism seemed to be catching: The pack chasing Biles churned out one dynamite routine after another, a collective show of spark and steadiness showing the overall strength of the American team. The frontrunners were led by Riley McCusker and Grace McCallum, both members of the U.S. Team that captured gold at last year’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar, who landed second and third, respectively, behind Biles.

The elegant McCusker bookended her night with regal performances on the balance beam and uneven bars en route to accumulating 57.900 points. “It felt great to be out there,” said McCusker, who celebrated her 18th birthday earlier this month. “I look forward to competing all year and, being an elite, you don’t get that many meets. I find it really fun to come out and put on a pretty leo and perform. Honestly, the whole thing was pretty great. I had a great group rotating with me, we were really positive. We had a great time together, lots of laughter. It didn’t feel so much like a pressure meet.”

McCallum, second at the American Cup earlier this year, continued to come into her own in her second senior season. She accumulated 57.700 points, enough to hold off the challenge from 2018 World beam finalist Kara Eaker, who finished fourth with 56.800, ahead of training partner Leanne Wong, who scored 56.650 for fifth.

“I came into this meet knowing that I could do my routines,” said Eaker, whose 15.400 for a fairy-like performance on balance beam was the top score recorded by someone not named Biles. With a “whatever happens, happens” attitude toward her competition, Eaker appeared both zen and entirely dialed in as she turned in one hit routine after another.

2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd, who recorded the highest score of the meet on the uneven bars with 14.700, was sixth. “Bars, I’m super happy with. I think that’s the best bar routine I’ve done in a really long time, especially considering that I kind of downgraded. I’m really happy to see that I can get that kind of a score even with my slight downgrade,” Hurd said. “Beam was a little bit wobbly, and I’m kind of sad I didn’t get all my connections, but I stayed on and stayed on my feet and that’s all that matters.”

Following the competition, McCusker, Eaker, Wong, Hurd and Aleah Finnegan were named to the five-person team that will represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, later this month. Shilese Jones is the team alternate.

Biles and McCallum opted not to aim for Pan American selection, preferring to focus on rest and refinement before next month’s U.S. Championships in Kansas City, and after that, October’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

“There’s always more work to do,” Biles said. “We still need to work on a little bit more consistency, and some of the form on some of the events.”

But Biles and coach Laurent Landi professed themselves generally happy with Saturday’s showing, each for different reasons. “I think so far it shows consistency throughout the year and every meet I’ve gone to in the past couple of years,” Biles said. “I feel like it’s a stepping stone. Every meet I go to I get a little bit more confident with some of the events, especially since if I’ve been struggling with them in practice. It definitely helps to come here and hit those routines.”

In his summing up, Landi, his mind on Tokyo 2020, was more succinct. “Four for four,” he said. “That’s all she needs to do for next year.”