March 06, 2015

The best gymnast in the world has spent the last five months working out five days a week in a non-descript warehouse not far from her home in the Houston suburbs. The only trappings of her success: the Cadillac sedan she drives, an upgrade from the Ford Focus that required her to basically hug the steering wheel to see the road.

Ask Simone Biles if she's the youngest Cadillac owner on the planet and the 17-year-old two-time world champion just laughs. Her longtime coach Aimee Boorman points out it's one of the few perks Biles allows herself.

''She doesn't have much of a life outside the gym,'' Boorman said. ''The car is really the one thing she gets.''

That may be about to change. Biles returns to competition for the first time since cruising to a second straight all-around title at the 2014 world championships on Saturday when she headlines the American Cup at AT&T Stadium just outside Dallas, the first marquee event of the year and, in some ways, the first real step toward the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Biles and Boorman don't talk about making it to Rio. They don't have to. It's been beyond the horizon for years. Do the right things and they'll get there.

Boorman does her best to keep the pressure off her star's remarkably powerful shoulders. It's one thing to get to the top. To stay there for three years - which is basically what Biles has signed up for after winning the world title in 2013 and repeating last fall - is practically impossible in a sport where health, success and the ability to fend off a seemingly never-ending pipeline of up-and-comers is fickle at best.

''If someone is (saying) `Simone's got to win the Olympic gold,' that's their issue for putting that pressure on her,'' Boorman said. ''I tell her that any time she feels any kind of pressure, that whoever is putting pressure on her, that's on them. That's not on her. If she doesn't win one day, she doesn't win. That doesn't diminish anything she's done.''

Biles isn't driven to win so much as she's driven to entertain. It's evident in the neon smile she flashes during her routines, the one that seems to say, ''You think that was cool, well watch this.'' She is 4 feet, 8 inches of kinetic energy, her legs powder kegs that would be the envy of most football players. She doesn't defy gravity on her tumbling runs so much as she escapes it.

Yet much of Biles' two-year run of dominance - no less than Mary Lou Retton has called Biles perhaps the most talented gymnast ever - remains largely unknown outside the close-knit gymnastics world. It's what happens when your star rises in the middle of an Olympic cycle.

For all of her breathtaking skills and fistful of medals, Biles has just over 23,000 Twitter followers and isn't even verified. Her most memorable (not to mention meme-able) moment may have come on the medal stand in China last fall, when a bee popped out of the flowers she was holding and chased her off the podium.

''It's really weird,'' Biles said. ''If that's how people know me, that's OK I guess. Maybe it'll make them watch gymnastics.''

The American Cup will certainly give Biles a massive stage - literally - and the chance to perform in front of familiar faces for once after spending the last two years competing all over the globe. More than 150 friends and family will make their way up from Houston for the event, which will take place in a cordoned-off portion of AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Biles and the rest of the field (nine men and nine women) will compete right under the massive video board that hangs from the roof.

While defending champion Sam Mikulak leads a deep men's group that includes rising star Donnell Whittenburg, let there be little doubt that this is Biles' show.

She was runner-up at the American Cup in 2013 - her first meet as a member of the senior national team when she admits she ''totally screwed up'' on beam - and missed last year's meet with a shoulder injury. With defending Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas and two-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman on their way back after taking a break following their triumphant run at the 2012 London Games, Biles may find it pretty crowded at the top.

It's an idea she's OK with. To be honest, she's still stunned at the idea that she might be famous.

''Everyone says I'm famous but I don't see it,'' she said. ''My closest friends tease me about it but I'm still Simone to everybody else. I still have my chores. I still have schoolwork.''

Not for much longer. Biles will graduate from high school this summer and is deferring enrollment to UCLA until after Rio. That will give her a year to get ready for her sport's biggest stage, a time that will coincide with the 50,000 square foot training facility her family will open in August. Big things are on the way. Whatever happens this weekend simply a starting point. She hasn't taken time to think about the ending yet.

To be honest, she doesn't want to.

''We know what the ultimate goal is,'' Biles said. ''We don't write it down. We don't think about it at all. Too much stuff can happen. We're just trying to enjoy this.''

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