SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Simone Biles can officially book that plane ticket for Brazil. Same for defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas.
Biles, the three-time world gymnastics champion, secured her spot on the U.S. Olympic team with a near flawless tour of the SAP Center on Sunday night, earning an automatic berth on the five-woman team by strolling to the all-around title at the Olympic Trials.
Biles will be joined in Rio de Janeiro by Douglas, three-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez. MyKayla Skinner, Ragan Smith and Ashton Locklear are the alternates.
While Biles has been a lock for months, the path to the Olympics was far murkier for Douglas. A revelation in London four years ago, the 20-year-old has struggled with her form in recent weeks and fell off balance beam for a second straight night while finishing seventh behind Biles.
But she finished third on uneven bars behind Kocian and Locklear, and national team coordinator Martha Karolyi has long believed in Douglas’ ability to turn it up when the pressure is on.
Biles, who hasn’t lost in more than three years, posted a two-day total of 123.250. The trials put an end to three-plus years of anticipation for the electrifying 19-year-old, who has rapidly developed from bouncy prodigy to arguably the greatest gymnast of all-time.
The only thing missing on a resume that includes 14 world championship medals and four national titles is Olympic gold. She will head to Rio as the heavy favorite to become the fourth straight American to stand atop the podium at the end of the all-around finals on Aug. 11, the brightest star on a squad that is very much the gymnastics equivalent of the Michael Jordan-led Dream Team that overwhelmed the 1992 Games.
Yet the moment Biles has spent her entire career training for didn’t quite go as planned. Sure, she was spectacular at times — particularly on vault where her score of 16.2 included a 9.9 mark for execution. She also stepped out of bounds during her floor exercise and hopped off the beam following a rare mistake.
While her lead was never in danger — and really, it hasn’t been since the summer of 2013 — there’s little doubt the missteps will linger with Biles as she prepares for Brazil.
The Americans haven’t lost a major international competition in six years, the gap between themselves and the rest of the world hardening along the way. Anything less than sending Karolyi into retirement with gold would be a “Miracle On Ice”-level upset.
The only real drama heading into the final night of trials centered on who would join Biles. The precocious 16-year-old Hernandez — who admits she’s too naive to know any better — continued her rapid ascension to perhaps the best threat to Biles’ long run at the top. Her best event is the balance beam, a 45-second test of nerves that she treats like a workout on the beach. Her score of 15.7 is gold-medal worthy if she can repeat it in Rio.
Raisman’s spot ended a remarkable resurgence in recent months. She had a forgettable performance at the world championships last fall — failing to make an individual event final — and seemed to be in the middle of the pack as recently as March.
Not anymore. The 22-year-old — the oldest member of the team — stormed her way through two run-up events to trials and kept it going on Sunday night.
Kocian, a world champion on uneven bars, rode the strength of a 15.9 on Sunday night to give herself just enough breathing room over Locklear.