Biles wins 9th U.S. title, continues Olympic prep

FORT WORTH, Texas — Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles won her ninth U.S. Championship on Sunday, leaving little doubt that at age 27 and more than a decade into her run atop the sport, she is as good as ever.

Biles posted a two-day all-around total of 119.750, nearly six points clear of runner-up Skye Blakely, making it clear she appears ready to add a second all-around Olympic gold to go with the one she captured in 2016.

In front of an audience that included her husband, Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens, Biles put on a four-rotation clinic that featured all the trademarks of a typical Biles performance. There was jaw-dropping athleticism mixed with precision and more than a splash of swagger.

Biles finished with the highest two-day score on all four events — something she’d done only once before at nationals (2018) — to build plenty of momentum ahead of the Olympic trials later this month in Minneapolis.

Her only misstep on Sunday took place on vault. She came up short on her Yurchenko double pike — two back flips with her hands clasped behind her knees — during warmups and overcompensated when it counted, generating so much force she wound up on her back. She still received a 15.000 for her effort, a testament to a vault that has never been completed in competition by another woman and has only attempted by a select group of men.

Not that it bothered her. Biles collected herself, took a couple of deep breaths then followed it up a Cheng vault that was rewarded with a 15.1 and put a ninth national title within reach, heady territory considering no other gymnast in the history of the sport in the U.S. has more than seven.

While Biles remains above the fray, as usual, there is plenty of competition for the other four spots on the five-woman U.S. team that will head to Paris as heavy favorites to return to the top of the Olympic podium after finishing second to Russia in Tokyo three years ago.

Blakely, 19, put together another impressive performance and will head to Minneapolis with plenty of momentum. Three years after her bid to make the 2020 Olympic team ended with an injury, Blakely is peaking at the right time.

Suni Lee, the 2020 Olympic champion who has spent the last year-plus battling kidney issues that have limited her training, shook off an early mistake on vault to put together elegant routines on uneven bars and balance beam that few in the world — even Biles — can match.

Olympians Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey are in the mix, though both endured falls on beam on Sunday. Third-place finisher Kayla DiCello slipped off the uneven bars. Leanne Wong, perhaps looking fatigued after a long season competing at Florida, also endured uncharacteristic miscues.

Shilese Jones, considered the best all-around gymnast in the U.S. without the last name Biles, pulled out of the championships on Friday, citing a shoulder injury though she said Sunday she was feeling better and plans to be available for trials. So will 18-year-old Kaliya Lincoln, who opted not to compete on Sunday after tweaking something during Friday night’s opening session.

Both — if healthy — figure to be serious contenders to earn an invitation to Paris (Jones in particular). If they’re not, the door could swing wide open for others and test the depth the senior elite program has been touting for years.

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