Biles leads big at trials; injuries hit 2 other stars


MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe the most remarkable thing about Simone Biles’ decade-plus run redefining what’s possible in gymnastics is how she has managed to stay healthy while doing it.

She is well-versed in the danger lurking at every turn, every twist, every landing. Blocking it all out and forging ahead might be her greatest skill, one that was put to the test Friday night at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Before Biles hopped onto the uneven bars in her first event, Kayla DiCello’s hopes of joining her in Paris ended with a torn right Achilles suffered a few feet away on vault.

A short time later, Shilese Jones gingerly made her way off the floor with a leg injury that left the six-time world championship medalist’s status very much up in the air.

It’s a lot to take in, even for a 27-year-old who has made the impossible look impossibly easy so often for so long.

The whole meet is, as Biles put it, “so stressful, so heavy.”

Still.

“If we can do this, we can do anything,” she added.

So while there were some uncharacteristically sloppy moments early, there was a splash of Biles’ singular brilliance late on her way to an all-around total of 58.900 that put her position to lock up an automatic berth on the five-woman team that will be announced Sunday night.

Still, it was hard to shake the image of two of her peers exiting in tears, all of it accompanied by an ever-present fear that never really goes away no matter how long you do this for a living.

“There is anxiety,” Biles longtime co-coach Laurent Landi said. “[Like], ‘All right, am I the next one to get hurt? What’s going to happen to me?'”

Landi’s advice was simple and direct, long the most effective way to communicate with the biggest star of the U.S. Olympic movement.

“You can’t control this,” Landi told her. “So control the controllable.”

Biles did. Even on a night when she wasn’t at her unparalleled best, she left little doubt she remains in control of her gymnastics and, perhaps most important of all, in control of her emotions.

While there was an uncharacteristically sloppy and shaky balance beam routine that left Biles cursing for all the cameras to see, there was also a standing ovation that accompanied her Yurchenko Double Pike vault, the one that’s named after her in the sport‘s Code of Points and is among the most difficult done in the world by anyone, man or woman.

And so it goes for Biles, who will head to Paris heavily favored to bookend the Olympic all-around gold she won as a teenager in 2016.

A lot has happened since then: marriage, a fistful of world titles and a memorable trip to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where she removed herself from multiple finals to focus on her mental health.

She took a two-year break from competition after returning from Japan but has looked as good as ever for most of the past 12 months, joking after her record ninth national title earlier this month that she’s “aging like fine wine.”

Biles hardly seems to be the only one.

Jordan Chiles, 23, is surging toward an Olympic spot just as she did three years ago. She finished in the top six on all four events Friday, heady territory considering injuries earlier this year appeared to dim her chances of making it to Paris.

Now, not so much. Yet Chiles laughed when asked if her previous experience in this spot helped her navigate the complex emotions of a meet that can alter the life of the five women who hear their name called at the end of it.

“No,” Chiles said. “I literally was saying this earlier this morning. I was like, ‘No matter what meet I’ve done in my life, this is the most stressful one I’ve done in my whole entire career.’ Because it’s that one night it’s like you either find out you make it or you don’t.”

Chiles appears on the verge of a return to her sport’s biggest stage. So does reigning Olympic champion Sunisa Lee.

The 21-year-old Lee, who has spent most of the past two years battling kidney-related health issues, used a pair of excellent sets on uneven bars and balance beam in front of a hometown crowd to finish third.

Behind Lee was 24-year-old Jade Carey, the reigning Olympic champion on floor exercise. Carey, who has spent the last three years deftly straddling the line between collegiate and elite gymnastics, finished second behind Biles on vault and fourth on floor.

The biggest question heading into Sunday will center on who will land the fifth spot. Joscelyn Roberson, at 18 one of the younger athletes in the 13-woman field, used a powerful set on floor to finish fifth.

Yet USA Gymnastics officials stress they are not married to the idea of taking the top five in rank order at the end of trials, which is what happened under previous leadership in 2021.

Kaliya Lincoln put up the second-best score on floor. Hezley Rivera appears to be improving with each passing meet, and 2020 Olympic alternate and four-time world championship medalist Leanne Wong has plenty of international experience.

Jones, the top American gymnast not named Biles when healthy, has spent most of the past two years looking essentially like a lock. That likely ended before the competition even officially began.

The 21-year-old arrived at the Target Center already nursing a slightly torn labrum in her right shoulder. Then she landed awkwardly while warming up on vault, wrenching her left knee.

She exited briefly but returned to be introduced with the rest of the field. She skipped the vault in the first rotation but returned to grit through the uneven bars, her best event.

While Jones put together an excellent 14.625 even while doing a slightly watered-down routine, she gingerly made her way off the podium. She talked to medical staff for several minutes before leaving for good.

Whether Jones tries to give it a shot Sunday is unclear. What is clear — what has always been clear since Biles’ senior debut in 2013 — is that there is her, and there is everyone else.



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