What pressure? Biles soars to lead at U.S. Olympic Trials

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Simone Biles reacts to her performance on the uneven bars during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Friday, June 25, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Simone Biles is primed for Tokyo.

The world and Olympic gymnastics champion put on a dazzling display during the U.S. Olympic Trials on Friday night, pulling out all the stops — well, almost all of them — on her way to a commanding lead and a spot in Japan next month.

Her all-around total of 60.565 included a 15.133 on beam that featured the “double-double” dismount named for her, a maneuver she’s kept under wraps since the 2019 world championships. She opted to skip the Yurchenko double-pike vault she unveiled in competition last month and still posted the top score on the event.

Her floor exercise — the one that includes not one but two eponymous elements in the sport’s Code of Points — was both spectacular and spectacularly controlled. Clearly frustrated after stepping out of bounds several times while winning her seventh national title earlier this month, Biles kept her toes well inside the white lines during her law-of-physics pushing tumbling passes.

“I was super excited going into this one,” Biles said. “I know exactly what to expect. And I feel like I’m very … like I’m a lot more emotional this time around, which is so crazy. Even walking out of the tearing up and crying. The girls are like, ‘Are you OK?’ I’m fine. It’s just like, I can’t believe the time is here. It’s been five years and I’m grateful.”

The top two all-around finishers Sunday night after the finals automatically qualify for the Olympic team. Biles is a lock no matter what happens Sunday.

Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles are nearing that territory, too. They might already be there.

The trio of Biles, Lee and Chiles came in 1-2-3 at nationals. They’re in the same positions heading into the finals after Lee put up a 57.666, followed by Chiles at 57.132, more than a half-point ahead of MyKayla Skinner.

While many of her competitors eased back into competition following a long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chiles sprinted to the title at Winter Cup in February and has been a fixture in the top three in event meet since. Perhaps just as importantly, she’s seemingly become immune to the pressure. She’s now completed 20 events over the last four months, without a fall on any of them.

Not even Biles, who came off uneven bars at the U.S. Classic in May, can say that.

The selection committee has set aside 30 minutes after the end of finals to put the team together. They might need every last second of it to see who earns the fourth spot.

Skinner, 24, is making a pretty compelling case. An alternate in 2016, Skinner went to college after the Rio Olympics before returning to the elite level in 2019. She spent part of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown battling the novel coronavirus and pneumonia.

Health scares behind her, she is putting on some of the best gymnastics of her career. Feeding off the energy inside an electric Dome at America’s Center, Skinner finished in the top five in three events, imploring the crowd to roar at the end of every dismount.

Skinner, Grace McCallum and Kayla DiCello are separated by just three-tenths of a point, with Kara Eaker a little further back. DiCello bounced back from a sluggish performance in which she fell on multiple events to finish in the top six in three of four events.

The race for the “plus-one” specialist spot appears to be Riley McCusker’s to lose. Her bars routine is world-class, her 14.800 score would put her in the mix for a medal in Tokyo if she were able to replicate it.

Jade Carey, who earned a nominative individual spot through the World Cup series, is the only gymnast who entered the meet with her spot already secured. She drilled her Amanar vault, her score of 15.2 second only to Biles on the event.

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