KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Simone Biles is intent on testing the limits of her own immense talent. During the first night of the U.S. women's gymnastics championships, she might have found them.
While the Olympic champion is well on her way to a record-tying sixth national title after posting an all-around score of 58.650, she didn't exactly seem thrilled with her performance.
She admitted she was ticked off after her floor routine, when her attempt to end her first tumbling pass with a triple-twisting double flip — a move never attempted in major competition by a female gymnast — came up a bit short. She eye-rolled after the first of her two vaults. She trudged off the podium after her bars set.
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 are the standards Biles has set for herself that on a night when she finished with the top score on three of the four events and finished third on the other she seemed more annoyed than elated.
Biles did not return to competition last summer simply intent on staying at the level that made her the greatest gymnast of her generation and perhaps of all time. A year out from a return to the Olympics, she has thrown in upgrades designed to keep her engaged and see just how high she can soar.
The level of difficulty she packs into each routine is so high that even when she can't quite pull it off — as happened at the end of her first tumbling pass on floor, when her triple-double ended with her lunging forward and putting both hands down to steady herself — she is still well clear of the rest of the world.
Biles leads 16-year-old Sunisa Lee by 1.75 points heading into Sunday's final day of competition. Jade Carey, who is nearing an automatic spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team as a vault specialist, put together four solid routines and is third at 56.100.
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.
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.