Simone Biles’ stunning performance gives her commanding lead at U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose

Biles earned a 15.700 while completing the Yurchenko double pike

SAN JOSE — Every other gymnast in the SAP Center paused, stopped moving, and turned to face the great one.

Simone Biles was in her second competition after a two-year break to focus on her mental health, ready to attempt a move so difficult that no other woman had ever attempted it in a competition.

As the elite women began Day 1 of the US Gymnastics Championships in San Jose on Friday night, it was all about Simone.

Thousands of screaming fans at the SAP Center pointed their phones at Biles as her name was announced at the vault. She smiled and took her place. Her legs churned and arms pumping as her 4-foot-8 frame zipped up the mat, then leaped onto the vault and flipped into the air.

She remained on the line indefinitely, completing two complete cycles and landing the Yurchenko double pike. For nearly a minute, the audience erupted. Biles smiled for what seemed like an eternity. Every gymnast in her vicinity ran over to give her a fist bump.

“That’s not normal, but she’s not normal,” Laurent Landi, her coach, said.

The judges gave her a 9.8, deducting 0.2 points for reasons unknown, and then penalizing her with 0.5 points for having her coach stand on the podium to spot her. A just punishment for Biles, who appears to value safety over perfection these days.

Nonetheless, with the highest difficulty score in the competition (6.4), she tallied a remarkable 15.700 on the vault, nearly a point and a half better than anyone else.

She also took first place on the floor with a 14.800 score after a spectacular routine in which she executed every flip and twist flawlessly, earning only one penalty for stepping over the line when her momentum and power carried her through a move so quickly that she couldn’t stop herself.

Biles, who wore a lavender bow in her bun and a matching leotard with silver glitter on her shoulders and waist, looked the part of the greatest of all time, waving at fans and interacting with the other gymnasts as if she’d been here before.

She has, in fact. And, despite being the oldest woman competing, the 26-year-old will be aiming for a record-breaking eighth national championship on Sunday.

If there was any doubt that her dominant return to gymnastics at the U.S. Classic earlier this month was a fluke, if anyone was still wondering about her two-year layoff that made it appear almost impossible for her to return to top form, Biles put all of that to rest with a stunning performance on Day 1.

“She’s one of those rare gymnasts who excels under pressure,” Landi said. “She’s very prepared. She explodes at meets and is awesome.”

Her only hiccup occurred during her first routine on the balance beam, when she leaped up with her right foot and attempted to stand before her left foot touched the beam. She almost tipped over, but after a brief wobble, she corrected herself, shook off the rust, and finished with a perfect dismount to earn a 14.450, the highest score of anyone on the beam.

“She’s a perfectionist, so she was not pleased,” said Cecile Landi, Biles’ other coach. “I told her, it’s fine, the rest was really good.”

Even the most critical eye would struggle to spot any signs of the “twisties,” the mental block that frequently prevents gymnasts from completing midair twists. Biles experienced them during the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, when she withdrew from four of her five exercises for fear of injuring herself while becoming disoriented in the air.

Perhaps that’s why her coach was standing on the mat with her on Friday, providing both physical and mental support.

“If I have to leave (to avoid the penalty), I will leave on her terms,” Laurent Landi said.

Biles had a 2.250 lead over her next closest competitor by the time she got to the uneven bars, her final routine. She performed flawlessly, earning a 14.350 from the judges.

She finished with a 59.300 overall, a commanding lead over Shi Jones, who finished with a 56.550.

The competition will conclude at the SAP Center on Sunday afternoon. The senior women’s competition begins at 3:30 p.m. PT. It will be shown on NBC.

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