Simone Biles Wins 9th National Title and Encourages Olympic Champion Sunisa Lee

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FORT WORTH, Texas, USA (AP) — There was a time when Simone Biles was thrilled with the anticipation of attending an Olympic Games, enchanted by not knowing what awaited her. That was eight years ago. When she was a teenager, feeling somewhat “silly.” All of that is now in the past. The evidence is not in Biles’ driver’s license or marriage certificate, but in the way the 27-year-old gymnast views things beyond her own benefit. She has moved past that vision that many of the great athletes have in pursuit of greatness. Perhaps that is the biggest difference between the national championship that Biles won on Sunday night — her ninth, this one with a combined total of 119.750 — and her first a decade ago.

The defining moment of Biles’ victory was not a flip or a jump. It was a walk. It was early in the competition when Biles noticed that Sunisa Lee, the Olympic champion from Tokyo 2020 and a close friend, had a bad turn in the air during her hair flip exercise, falling on her back, reacting in shock and fear. “I thought it was all over,” said Lee. But Biles appeared out of nowhere to support her. She knew exactly what was happening to Lee better than anyone else. Three years ago in Tokyo, a strange move by Biles in the same exercise triggered a series of events that caused her to withdraw from multiple events and highlighted the debate over the importance of mental health in sports. Upon returning, Biles stood by the uneven bars to cheer on Lee, who recovered with a brilliant (perhaps less risky) routine for a score of 14.500, placing her fourth. “I knew she was struggling and she came over to help me,” Lee said.

Biles is at a point in her unparalleled career where what brings her happiness is no longer centered on the quality of her performance. While she joked that she thinks she is “aging like fine wine,” it was clear that what pleased her the most was when she spoke of the five world champions who are her teammates, mostly girls a decade younger than her, who will accompany her to the Olympic qualifying event in Minneapolis at the end of this month. “That’s what excites me because I think they will have long careers,” Biles said. “If I can help them in any way, now and in the future, that’s what I’ll do.”

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 hallmarks of a typical performance from her. She displayed astonishing athleticism, mixed with precision and more than a touch of swagger. She scored a total of 119.750 over two days, nearly six points ahead of runner-up Skye Blakely, leaving little doubt that she seems ready to add a second Olympic gold in Paris 2024 to the one she captured in Rio 2016. Biles finished with the highest score over two days in all four events, something she had only achieved once before at the national championships (2018).

Her only misstep on Sunday came in the vault. She fell short on her Yurchenko maneuver (two backflips with hands interlocked behind the knees) during warm-ups and overcompensated when necessary, generating so much force that she ended up on her back. Still, she received a score of 15.000 for her effort, a testament to a vault that has never been completed in competition by another woman and has only been attempted by a select group of men.