The second act of her remarkable career is about something more. At 21, she has a greater appreciation of her own natural abilities than she did when she won four golds at the 2016 Olympics. She wants to find out where all that talent and all that power can take her and her sport.
By Sunday night, however, Biles, 21, of Spring almost certainly will be one golden banner closer to the Green and White.
Displaying the same characteristic power that carried her through the last Olympic cycle as the sport’s dominant performer, Biles added some new skills to the world’s largest repertoire of leaps and twists to take the opening-night lead in the two-night women’s all-around championship.
No one has really come close in the interim. Then again, no one else is Biles. Reigning world champion Morgan Hurd put together the best night of her career as a senior with her score of 57.000 but will head into Sunday’s finals a distant second behind Biles. Hurd, 17, is well aware whom she’s up against.
“It’s such an honor to be able to compete with the GOAT,” Hurd said, using the popular acronym for “greatest of all time” to describe Biles. “She’s just such a legend, and it’s amazing. Clearly I’m watching her because you can’t not watch her. Your eyes are just automatically drawn to her.”
Riley McCusker is third, followed by Grace McCallum and Trinity Thomas. Defending national champion Ragan Smith, battling foot injuries, struggled. The 2016 Olympic alternate is tied for ninth after putting up a 53.750, well below her all-around scores at the 2017 championships, where she easily rolled to victory.
In that sense, nothing has changed for Biles. She returned to competition following her post-Olympic sabbatical at the U.S. Classic two weeks ago and won easily, even with a handful of small errors she promised she could clean up in time for nationals.
She will return Sunday for, barring the unexpected, another command performance that will take her one step closer to another world championships and, she hopes, to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Biles’ four-event score of 60.1 points was 3.1 points clear of 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd, who along with Riley McCusker of Brielle, N.Y., was the only gymnast within four points of Biles.
Biles wrapped up her evening on balance beam, the only one of three event finals in which she did not win a gold medal.
It came after an in-arena contest in which young gymnasts were asked to answer questions about the sport and were rewarded, naturally, with copies of Biles’ autobiography, “Courage to Soar.”
Such is her dominance, in word and deed, of the sport as she continues her comeback from an absence from competition of almost two years.
As was the case at the U.S. Classic in Columbus, Ohio, last month, Biles came out with a bounce – too much bounce, in fact – on floor exercise, the event on which she won her fourth gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
After landing the first tumbling pass on which she flew out of bounds in Columbus, she flew out of bounds on her third and fourth tumbling passes and lost six-tenths of a point on landing errors for a score of 14.45.
With 2017 nationals runner-up Jordan Chiles of Vancouver, Wash., on vault, gymnastics’ highest-scoring event, and third-place finisher Riley McCusker of Brielle, N.Y., on uneven bars, Biles was denied her usual wire-to-wire lead and was in third place after the first of four rotations.
Biles more than made up for the landing errors, however, on vault, her second of four events and another gold medal event for her in Rio.
She channeled her power more efficiently on both vaults – the Cheng, named for Chinese champion Cheng Fei, which includes a 540-degree rotation, and the Amanar, named for Romanian gymnast Simona Amanar, which features 2 ½ twists and a blind landing.
Both landings were near-perfect, with a tiny hop forward in each case, and so were here scores – 9.6 on a 10.0 scale for execution in both cases, and a 15.6 score on the Cheng to lift her back into the lead by 1.4 points over Jade Carey of Phoenix, a two-time world silver medalist last year, and McCusker and by two full points over Chiles.
Dallas area gymnast Ragan Smith, the defending national champion last year in Biles’ absence from competition, struggled for the second consecutive event to drop out of contention as she continues to battle an ankle injury that knocked her out of the world championship all-around finals last year.
Biles built her lead in rotation three on uneven bars, the only event in which she did not qualify for event finals in Rio and the event on which she fell while attempting a new skill at the U.S. Classic.
She held on to the bar this time and posted a score of 14.85, which through three rotations was the highest score on that event.
That boosted her score to 2.55 points over Morgan Hurd, who won last year’s world all-around title in Biles’ absence. Only Hurd, McCusker and Grace McCallum of Isanti, Minn., were within three points of Biles, even with the six-tenths deduction on her opening event.