Olympics

Gymnast Simone Biles clinches record-tying sixth national title with all-around gold

When Simone Biles stepped up for the floor exercise Sunday night, she was prepared to attempt something the sport had never seen: a triple-double, meaning two flips and three twists. She slipped a tad when she attempted it Friday night, but this time, she landed it nearly perfectly.

Her legend grew in a matter of minutes.

Hours later, Biles returned to a more familiar place.

When she climbed onto the U.S. gymnastics national championships winner’s podium at Sprint Center, Biles was prepared to do something she had already done five times previously: accept the all-around gold medal.

Biles earned her sixth with a total all-around score of 118.500, tying her for the most national titles in the sport’s history.

“I didn’t want to be the last person to see it,” said Biles, who won gold in the floor exercise, balance beam and vault and bronze on uneven bars, “so I went online to see what it looked like, so me and (coach) Laurent (Landi) could watch it again. I was very pleased that I actually landed it this time in competition.”

Biles has now risen to a level where only a few have gone. Even the gymnast she tied for national titles Sunday night, Clara Schroth Lomady, isn’t in contention for the greatest-of-all-time status.

That honor belongs to Mary Lou Retton, a retired gymnast whose gold medal in the individual all-around competition at the 1984 Summer Olympics made her the first American woman to win such a thing.

But even she admits it: Biles is better.

“I say it over and over,” Retton told People magazine in 2016. “She is the greatest gymnast ever. I really do think that.”

That much was evident in the final standings Sunday night. Sunisa Lee earned the all-around silver, winning gold on the uneven bars and scoring a 113.550, while Grace McCallum brought home the all-around bronze, totaling a score of 111.850.

GAGE Center, in Blue Springs, was represented well. Overland Park, Kansas native Leanne Wong finished fifth, scoring a total all-around figure of 111.250, and she also won bronze on the balance beam. Grain Valley’s Kara Eaker placed 10th overall and secured the silver on the balance beam.

Lee’s Summit native Aleah Finnegan, also a GAGE gymnast, finished 13th overall.

“Knowing that I still won silver with a fall,” Eaker said, “it feels really good, knowing that I’m still doing it, I’m still getting up there and finishing routines and scoring pretty good.”

Biles’ reality is such that she acknowledges it herself. On Wednesday, she warmed up for this championship meet in a leotard bedazzled with a goat.

It’s an acronym: Greatest Of All Time.

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Biles’ list of accolades is well-known, but it bears repeating: She was the 2016 Olympic individual all-around, vault and floor gold medalist, and the bronze medalist on the balance beam. She’s also a four-time world all-around champion, four-time world floor exercise champion, two-time world balance beam champion and 2018 world vault champion.

In total, she has won six national titles.

Another way to explain Biles’ lore is to point out her ingenuity. She’s the owner of two eponymous skills, or skills named for their creator, and both are named The Biles: The first, on the vault, involves a Yurchenko half-on, front layout salchow with double twist off. The second, on the floor exercise, features a double layout half-out. Very difficult maneuvers.

Even if we threw all that out the window, Biles has shown the kind of sheer athleticism, pure ability and utter wow factor to make her a household name, leaping like she’s playing the floor is a volcano game that many of us enjoyed as kids. That Biles has engendered such name recognition competing in a discipline that lacks the enormous audience enjoyed by other major sports speaks to her raw ability, among other things.

“I feel like my heart stops,” Biles said, “because I’m like, ‘Wow, they actually noticed me.’ What we do, I feel like, is so much smaller, and I feel like gymnastics isn’t that widely recognized. So to get that support from everybody else, and they’re really excited about it, makes us feel like we’re doing something good.”

Together, these are the ways Biles has pieced together a list of accolades that have elevated her to a stratosphere befitting the best gymnast ever.

She’ll vouch for herself, too.

“Now, we don’t want to change anything going into next year,” Biles said. “You just want to stay consistent with your routines, and if any upgrades come, you’ll see. I think, right now, you kind of solidify your routines.”

In the afternoon session for the junior women’s finals, Kayla DiCello took home the all-around title — but just barely.

DiCello, who entered Sunday in second place, edged Konnor McClain, using a total all-around score of 112.700 to best McClain’s 112.600.

An incoming high school sophomore, McClain clinched the gold in the floor exercise, balance beam and vault, while Olivia Greaves, who grabbed the all-around bronze, won gold on uneven bars.

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