August 12, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Simone Biles insists she's not keeping track. She goes to a gymnastics meet. She spends a couple of hours testing the laws of physics and the sport's boundaries, occasionally glancing up at the scoreboard.

Is she in first place? Biles is never sure. Keeping track is somebody else's job.

''At the end, I know when they pull me if I won or not,'' Biles said.

The two-time defending world champion hasn't lost a meet in two years heading into the U.S. championships this weekend. She's the clear favorite for Olympic gold with 358 days to go before the flame is lit in Rio. Only she doesn't know it.

Ask longtime coach Aimee Boorman if the 18-year-old with the powerful legs knows just how far she's separated herself from the rest of the world and Boorman just shakes her head.

''No,'' said Boorman, with a laugh. ''I don't think she ever puts in the back of her mind, `Someone is trying to beat me. Someone is trying to knock me off.'''

Maybe it's because no one has really come close since Biles captured her first national title two summers ago. Her average margin of victory during her eight-meet streak is 2.18 points, the equivalent of three touchdowns in a football game.

While defending Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas and three-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman are making steady progress in their return from post-London layoffs, at the moment there is Biles and everyone else. Her rise has taken some of the pressure off Douglas, who is seeking to become the first repeat Olympic all-around titlist in nearly 50 years.

Biles grabbed the bar Douglas set at the O2 Arena in 2012 and took off with it, daring the rest of the world to catch her.

Douglas is hardly backing away from the challenge. She finished second to Biles at the final qualifier for the national championships in Chicago last month. It was an improvement from her first meet in March, when she came in fourth behind Biles at the Jesolo Cup in Italy.

Still, the gap is significant. That's fine by Douglas.

''If we all just went out here doing simple skills, it would be boring,'' Douglas said. ''I love that Simone is there and she definitely does really big gymnastics. It's all about competition. We're all going to bring out the best in each other.''

Biles projects an aura of ease on big moves. The Amanar is arguably the toughest vault on the planet, a round-off back handspring off the table followed by 2 1/2 twists. Only a select few can do it. Even fewer can do it well.

Raisman has spent the better part of her elite career trying it with varying levels of success. It takes concentration and a little luck for Raisman to pull it off. Not for Biles.

''I wonder what goes through her mind when she's doing her (Amanar),'' Raisman said. ''I'm sure she's thinking about what she's going to buy when she goes shopping. I don't think she thinks about anything.''

While Boorman stresses that isn't always the case - and Biles admitted to having a brief crying jag during training on Wednesday after a particularly rough time on beam - Biles has found a rhythm designed to keep her from burning out in a sport where primes can be measured in months, not years.

''I'm fine if she's not in the gym for X number of days,'' Boorman said. ''It's about keeping her normal. If we keep her life normal, then her gymnastics will stay normal.''

That includes letting Biles be a teenager. She's active on her lively twitter account and posted a video recently of her doing a back flip off a pier and into the water while on vacation. Raisman says Biles ''leads all the craziness'' during U.S. national team camps at the ranch in Texas run by coordinator Martha Karolyi.

''She's so funny,'' Raisman said. ''I'll see her and I'll be like, `Aren't you tired? Oh right, you're never tired.' I wish I could be like that. She's got so much energy.''

It's an energy that will be tested as Rio approaches. Biles had verbally committed to UCLA but turned professional last month with an eye toward the financial windfall that awaits those who climb to Olympic glory. There will be increasing demands on her time from sponsors, with Boorman already trying to figure out how to squeeze in training while Biles is on the road.

Then there's the price that comes with her increasing fame, which includes autograph seekers at airports or girls waiting outside her hotel room in hopes of snapping a quick selfie.

Biles has handled these issue with grace and humility so far and done it without sacrificing her spot on the podium. As Rio looms, even Karolyi - who is not prone to pronouncements - is impressed with a run that shows no signs of abating.

''She is a talented girl,'' Karolyi said. ''But you also have to pair your talent with consistent training, and it looks like she is balancing so far very well.''

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