A decade later, Simone Biles is still on top.
The gymnastics star won her record eighth US championship on Sunday night, 10 years after she first ascended to the top of her sport as a teenage prodigy.
Biles, now a 26-year-old newlywed considered perhaps the greatest of all time, posted an all-around two-day total of 118.40, four points clear of runner-up Shilese Jones. Florida junior Leanne Wong claimed third, bolstering her chances of making a third straight world championship team.
Biles is all but assured of returning to the gym where she captured her first world title in 2013. Over the course of two electric nights at the SAP Center, she served notice that even after a two-year break following the Tokyo Olympics, in gymnastics there is the one referred to as the GOAT and there is everyone else.
Biles became the oldest woman to win a national title since USA Gymnastics began organizing the event in 1963. Her eight crowns moved her past Alfred Jochim, who won seven between 1925-33 when the Amateur Athletics Union ran the championships and the events in men’s competition included rope climbing.
“I don’t think about numbers,” Biles said. “I think about my performance. And I think overall, I hit 8 for 8. I guess it’s a lucky number this year.”
The sport has come a long way over the last century. No one has spent more time at the far end of the Bell curve than Biles, who has spent 10 years using her singular talents to push boundaries in more ways than one.
Peaks aren’t supposed to last this long. Most elite gymnasts at 26 – at least the ones who haven’t retired – are simply hoping to hold on to what they have.
Biles isn’t interested in that. Never has been. She finds repetition boring. She insists this time she’s doing it “for herself” and her markedly different approach to her job offers tangible proof she’s not lying.
Rather than let the world in to her journey as she eyes a third Olympics, she’s kept most of her training under wraps, more interested in sharing glimpses of her life far away from the gym.
“I like to keep (my goals) personal, just so that I know what I’m aiming for,” Biles said. “I think it’s better that way. I’m trying to move a little bit differently this year than I have in the past. I think it’s working so far, so I’m going to keep it secretive.”
There appears to be more balance in her life, leaning into the “it’s just gymnastics” mantra that helped fuel her rise.
Age hasn’t caught up to her yet, though she played it relatively safe – by her standards – on Sunday. She tweaked her right ankle in training on Saturday, leading her to opt out of doing the Yurchenko double pike vault that she nailed almost flawlessly during the opening night of the competition on Friday.
The 14.850 she received for her Cheng vault was still the highest of the night on the event. So was the 14.8 she earned on beam. The 15.400 that drew a standing ovation when she finished too.
Next stop is Antwerp in late September, where Biles will try to add to the 25 medals – 18 of them gold – she’s captured so far in her unparalleled career.
Jones figures to be on the plane too. The 21-year-old is a marvel on bars, where she thrives despite being tall (5-foot-6ish) for someone who opts to do this for a living. The crowd erupted when she nailed her dismount, her 15.000 score was tops in the meet on the event and put 10 months filled with injuries that have slowed her training firmly behind her.
Who joins Jones and Biles at worlds remains very much up in the air.
Reigning Olympic champion Sunisa Lee, who has spent most of the year battling a kidney issue her doctors are still trying to get a handle on, could have a chance as a specialist after putting together a solid balance beam routine.
Wong, one of several athletes trying to compete at the NCAA and elite levels at the same time, put together two stellar nights that included an elegant bars routine and a floor exercise that makes up for in precision what it lacks in power.
Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles, teammates of Biles’ at the 2020 Olympics, who have also spent the last two years splitting time between college and elite, weren’t quite as sharp. Chiles fell off both the bars and beam. Carey finished in the top 10 on just one event – vault – where the Americans figure to be loaded.