Biles surges to lead at US gymnastics championships

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) There Simone Biles was, momentarily splayed across the floor during the opening round of the U.S. women's gymnastics championships Thursday night wondering how in the world she got there.

A tumbling run she had nailed down for the better part of a decade ended with the two-time defending world champion flat on her face.

''That was a freak accident for me,'' Biles said.

One that typically would leave her rattled. Not this time.

Minutes after her uncharacteristic wobble, Biles atoned with a jaw-dropping vault even the judges couldn't ignore. Order restored, Biles finished with a total of 61.100 and a healthy 1.4-point lead over Maggie Nichols and a 2.4-point lead over reigning Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas in a bid to become the second American woman ever to win three straight national titles.

Even on a ''bad'' night, Biles is still the best in the world. And in a way, her stunning mistake set the stage for another step in the 18-year-old's maturity. Typically unable to put aside even the slightest misstep in training, Biles posted a 16.250 after drilling her Amanar vault, her black, white and pink leotard perfectly still and her feet seemingly magnetized to the ground.

''That one I shocked myself,'' Biles said. ''I was like `Oh my gosh.' But whenever I landed I was like `just don't move.'''

She wasn't the only one stunned. Getting Biles to mentally hit ''delete'' following a mistake is something coach Aimee Boorman has been working with Biles on for years. To see it actually happen under the lights with U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi keeping a watchful eye was probably just as important as Biles' competition-tilting score.

''She usually lets it carry over,'' Boorman said. ''If we're at the gym and she has a bad event, she has a really hard time letting go of it, so this was excellent.''

And perhaps another layer of armor for Biles to don as she tries to extend her two-year unbeaten streak all the way through the 2016 Olympics.

''She almost never messes up,'' Nichols said. ''To see her go and then vault, it shows how powerful and amazing she is.''

Nichols has spent most of the last 18 months working in Biles' considerable shadow but spent most of Thursday night in the lead ahead of far more accomplished competition. She started with a respectable Amanar of her own and joined Biles as the only two women in the field to post four scores over 14.000 as she tries to lock down one of the six spots on the world championship team.

''It's important to show the committee I can hit my routine in front of a big, huge crowd,'' Nichols said. ''You need to show the committee you can do it under pressure.''

Biles' spot for worlds is locked up but for three rotations she hardly looked like her typically dominant self, particularly during an uncharacteristically sloppy floor exercise, her favorite event. She typically turns her 90 seconds turning the large blue mat into her personal canvas highlighted by propulsive tumbling runs that challenge the laws of physics while doing it with a smile that can send a charge through the arena.

Not this time. Biles under rotated during her final pass - one the high school graduate has been doing since she was in elementary school - and ended up on the ground.

''I was like, `OK, you just need to get over it because I mean, how often do you all on floor?''' she said.

Ten minutes later, all was forgiven. Powering down the runway then packing 2 1/2 twists into a split second, Biles put together a world-class Amanar vault that left her saying ''wow'' when she and Boorman watched the replay.

''She's been trying to get a 16 for so long and they just haven't wanted to throw it,'' Boorman said.

Biles gave them no choice as the scramble behind her intensified.

Douglas, attempting to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion in nearly 50 years, took another solid step forward. Polished if not perfect, Douglas put together a clean and crisp bars set that provided a reminder why Karolyi became enamored with her in the first place back in 2011. That momentum, however, slowed on floor exercise where a 13.850 left her well back of Biles.

''I'm a perfectionist, so I'll probably give myself a C,'' Douglas said. ''My last A was at the Olympics.''

There are still 357 days to get ready for Rio, and Douglas is fine if it takes that long to catch Biles.

---

A previous version of this story had the wrong colors of Biles' leotard.

---

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.