Simone Biles claims women's gymnastics title

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Simone Biles won the U.S. women’s gymnastics title Saturday night, edging Kyla Ross.

Simone Biles competes on the balance beam during the U.S. national championships. The 16-year-old edged Kyla Ross for the title Saturday.  ELISE AMENDOLA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
ELISE AMENDOLA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Simone Biles competes on the balance beam during the U.S. national championships. The 16-year-old edged Kyla Ross for the title Saturday.

The 16-year-old Biles put together a two-day score of 120.450, just ahead of the 120.250 posted by Ross.

Brenna Dowell was third, followed by Peyton Ernst and Maggie Nichols. All three, like the rest of the field, were well behind the world-class efforts put together by Biles and Ross.

Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney easily won her second national title in vault as she gears up for the world championships in Belgium this fall.

Biles took control of the meet during the preliminary round on Thursday and never trailed in the finals, overcoming a miscue on uneven bars to reach the top of the podium.

Ross had a chance heading into beam, her final event. Needing to post a 15.450 to tie Biles after Biles briefly lost momentum in her bars routine, Ross nearly went out and did it. A small wobble at the end that included Ross flailing her arms to maintain her balance gave Biles enough wiggle room to survive.

The duel between the top two active American gymnasts offered a marked contrast in styles. Ross is all grace and fluid lines. There is no wasted movement in her routines. Every trick carefully is crafted to accentuate the budding maturity in the youngest member of the Fierce Five. After watching Ross put together a near flawless set on uneven bars during the preliminary round, good friend Maroney joked she nearly “passed out” watching Ross glide from bar to bar as if she was doing a ballet six feet off the ground.

Biles is the polar opposite, a 4-foot-8 livewire from aptly named Spring, Texas, who bounds across the floor like gravity is an option, not a requirement. At times all that pent-up energy can get the best of her. She was admittedly anxious during a qualifying meet in Chicago last month, struggling so mightily she was scratched with one event to go out of fear of injuring herself.

A pep talk from U.S. women’s team national coordinator Martha Karolyi and a well-placed shoulder by Ross helped the 16-year-old settle down. Ross told her to try to tune out the crowd and the stakes, something Biles said was easy considering she admits to blocking out her parents “all the time.”

The roar <0x2014> not to mention the spotlight <0x2014> is sure to grow louder after the breakthrough performance she needed to be considered a serious all-around threat at worlds in October.

Biles began her march to the title on beam. She ripped through her set, barely wobbling on the 4-inch wooden plank perched 4-feet off the ground. The arena echoed with each thud as she went through a difficult series of jumps and twists. She nailed the dismount and bounded back to her coaches, the confidence boost she needed to turn what appeared to be a showdown with Ross into a coronation.

Ross didn’t lose the meet. Biles went out and won it.

Her floor exercise is 75 seconds of ferocity. At times she looks almost impatient as she zips through the choreography, eager to get back to her tumbling runs that seem to defy physics. A slight step out of bounds cost her a 10th of a point, the only flub on a night she grabbed the mantle as the leader of the next generation of U.S. women’s gymnastics with both hands.

She’ll have company from the old guard - well, as much as a 17-year-old can be considered old -in Belgium. Maroney, one of the greatest vaulters in the history of the sport, put on yet another show to bookend the national title she won two years ago.

The crowd roared when Maroney nailed her signature Amanar  - the hardest vault being done in competition - and posted a 16.0, the highest score of the meet.

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