Posted: Aug 15, 2013 8:08 PM
Updated: Aug 15, 2013 8:08 PM
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Simone Biles grabbed the early lead in the U.S. women's gymnastics championships.
The 16-year-old from Texas put together an all-around score of 60.500 on Thursday in the opening round, well ahead of returning Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross.
Ross, who helped the U.S. women win the team gold in London last summer, was second at 59.750. Brenna Dowell was third, followed by Peyton Ernst and Maggie Nichols.
McKayla Maroney, who won two medals in London, posted the highest score on vault in her first major competition since undergoing a series of leg surgeries last fall. Maroney averaged 15.5 on her two vaults, edging Biles by a tenth of a point.
While "Fierce Five" teammates Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman took a break following their dominant performance in London in which they won the team gold and brought home a fistful of individual medals, Maroney and Ross are already back at work.
Ross, the only member of the team to remain an amateur, now finds herself firmly entrenched as the top active all-around gymnast in the program. She has sprouted 2 inches in the last 12 months, yet if there are any growing pains, they certainly don't show.
Though she lacks the explosive presence of her Olympic teammates, Ross makes up for it with an uncommon elegance that can make even the most difficult combinations look effortless. The 16-year-old, whose father is a former professional baseball player, glides over the beam as if the 4-inch wide piece of wood 4 feet off the ground is the width of a football field.
For Ross, nationals are little more than a warm-up for the world championships in Belgium in October. Barring an injury, her place on the four-person roster is set.
There's much more at stake for Biles. The compact kid from Spring, Texas, is all muscle and kinetic energy.
At times, that has gotten the best of her.
She struggled in the Secret Classic in Chicago last month and was even pulled out of the all-around on vault her best event after a series of sloppy and uncharacteristic mistakes. Needing to put together a solid performance this weekend to prove she can thrive on the big stage, Biles delivered with a nearly flawless night.
She breezed through uneven bars and avoided any major miscues on the beam. Her confidence growing with each successful set, the 4-foot-8 Biles soared on floor exercise. Showing the kind of hops that would make LeBron James take notice, Biles posted a 15.050, the highest score of the night.
Biles wasn't done. While Maroney, who won silver on vault in London after a stunning stumble on her second vault, is considered the best vaulter of her generation, Biles served notice the next wave may be just as good.
She actually outscored Maroney on the Amanar the most difficult vault currently being done in competition putting up a 15.8 to Maroney's 15.7. Biles' second vault isn't quite as hard, giving Maroney just enough wiggle room to remain in front.
Still, Biles clapped her hands after coming back to earth, clearing a major hurdle in her pursuit to make it to Belgium in six weeks.