Biles leads U.S. Championships; St. Paul's Lee in second place

Sunisa Lee competes on the beam
Sunisa Lee competes on the beam during the senior women's competition at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Friday in Kansas City, Mo.
Charlie Riedel | AP

The competition isn't the judges. Or the rest of the field. Or even the sport she's dominated for the better part of a decade. Simone Biles conquered all of them long ago.

What drives Biles is the voice in her head, the one that tells the best gymnast in the world that perfection is the only standard, even while attempting skills that no other woman on the planet (and very few men) can match.

That's why her anger was so palpable during the opening night of the U.S. women's gymnastics championships on Friday. She shorted her triple-twisting double-flip (a "triple double") on floor, a mistake that left the Olympic champion on the verge of tears. Her uneven bars were messy. The block on her Amanar vault dangerously close to disaster.

That her all-around total of 58.650 led St. Paul's Sunisa Lee by 1.750 — putting a sixth national title easily within reach heading into Sunday — is immaterial.

"I still get really frustrated because I know how good I am and how well I can do," she said. "So I just want to do the best routine for the audience and for myself out here."

Simone Biles competes on the beam
Simone Biles competes on the beam during the senior women's competition at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Friday in Kansas City, Mo.
Charlie Riedel | AP

For Biles, that means packing her sets with an unparalleled level of difficulty, a choice she makes not out of ego but from respect for her immense talent.

She didn't have to add the triple-double to the end of her first tumbling pass. She just wanted to see if she could do it. She didn't have to throw in a double-twisting double-flip dismount on beam. But after toying with it in practice for the last five years just for kicks, she figured it was time to see if she could do it when it mattered.

The results on Friday were mixed. The inability to control her adrenaline "efficiently," as coach Laurent Landi put it, cost her on the floor. She shorted the landing, lunged forward and briefly placed both hands on the ground to steady herself.

"I've never fallen on one or anything," Biles said. "Just to make a mistake like that -- it kind of irritated me."

And it didn't go away. She practically rolled her eyes after both of her vaults. Her uneven bars — an event she says she's been fighting with for a while now — lacked their usual crispness.

A smile — maybe of joy, maybe of relief, likely a mixture of both — finally emerged after she drilled her double-twisting double-flip dismount on beam. Such is the world Biles has created for herself that on a night when she finished with the top score in three events (vault, floor, beam) and tied for fourth on the other (bars), she seemed more annoyed than elated.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

"I'm actually happy she's so upset because it means she cares so much and we can work with it," Landi said. "If she would not care, if she would be, 'OK, it's just OK' — it would be hard to go back in the gym and practice it."

The Americans are in the process of trying to figure out who will join Biles on the 2019 world championship team. The field looks muddled with the selection camp a month away.

Sunisa Lee performs on the uneven bars

St. Paul's Lee, at 16 one of the youngest competitors in the 17-woman field, put up the top bars score (14.750) and was third on both beam and bars. She’s believed to be the first Hmong-American to make the national gymnastics team.

Jade Carey, who is eyeing an automatic spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team as a vault specialist while also hoping to prove to high-performance director Tom Forster she is among the best American all-arounds, put together four solid routines and is third at 56.100.

Riley McCusker is fourth despite a fall on uneven bars to end the night. Leanne Wong and Trinity Thomas are tied for fifth. Jordan Chiles, a teammate of Biles at World Champions Centre in Houston, is seventh.

Morgan Hurd, the 2017 world champion, appeared to be on her way to bouncing back from an uneven performance in the Pan American Games last week until her floor routine, when she bailed out of her second tumbling pass to fall from second to eighth overall.

"I think it was just a fluke and I'll deliver better on Sunday," said Hurd, who stressed she doesn't believe she's tired even while competing in her third major competition in a month.

Another Minnesota gymnast — Grace McCallum of Isanti — is tied for ninth heading into the last day of competition on Sunday.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.