2013 world champion Simone Biles hit all four events to take a commanding lead at the P&G Championships in Pittsburgh Thursday. Her 61.80 began with a 15.70 on beam, despite a wobble after her layout and a missed connection.
"I wasn't nervous starting on beam, because I start on beam in practice," she said. "I was nervous just because I was last (in the rotation)."
Coached by Aimee Boorman since she started the sport, Biles followed with a 15.650 on floor (see notes for passes), a 15.900 on vault (Amanar) and a 14.550 on uneven bars (Weiler kip, half-in half-out dismount).
Biles seemed to be having great fun throughout the night, especially on floor exercise, which was choreographed by Dominic Zito, who has done routines for several U.S. gymnasts in the past. Biles says she found him in the crowd right before she started her routine tonight. "I flashed him a look to say, 'This is for you, Dominic,'" she said.
Kyla Ross, the 2013 world runner-up, had a rough night, finishing fourth with 57.950. She hit beam but fell on her opening floor pass of whip immediate Arabian double front (sat down).
"That's something I recently added," Ross said. "[On the takeoff] I felt like I went straight up and straight down."
After vaulting a clean Yurchenko-double twist, she hit her 5.9 (D-score) bars routine, only to buckle on the landing of her double layout dismount.
"Bars was a pretty good routine, but unfortunately I couldn't finish the dismount," she said.
With Ross struggling, some new faces leaped into the top three. Maggie Nichols (Twin City Twisters) posted 58.650 and WOGA's Alyssa Baumann earned 58.400 to sit in second and third, respectively.
Both gymnasts proved the value of hitting four routines. Nichols' high score was 15.050 on vault (Yurchenko-double twist), and she scored between 14.450 and 14.600 on the other three events. Baumann shone brightest on beam, where her elegance and strong elements (Arabian front, Onodi) scored 15.150.
"I've been feeling really confident in the gym," said Nichols, who added that she's ready to stay there on Saturday night in the finals. "I want to show people I can get in the top two."
Well behind Ross in fifth was GAGE gymnast Madison Desch with 56.000, while Cincinnati's Amelia Hundley fell on her floor dismount after looking strong elsewhere.
The takeaway from tonight's senior session might be that the retirement of most of the Fierce Five has left the U.S. women's elite program somewhat depleted. It also should make the return of Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who was in the crowd tonight, all the more probable.
As for the 2014 Nanning World Championships are in October, it is anyone's guess as to how the U.S. women's team will fare. And that was not the case heading into the London Olympics two summers ago.
• Slim Pickens: Of the 13 gymnasts in the senior division, five are not doing all four events: Veronica Hults, Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear and Felicia Hano. Instead of four events going on simultaneously, the gymnasts are divided into two groups, and only one gymnast competes at a time.
• After the backswing following her Maloney on bars, Brenna Dowell swung right into a giant-full pirouette. Nice transition.
• Has anyone ever seen Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) fall off beam at a major competition?
• The last two competitors on floor in Rotation 2 were Simone Biles (World Champions) and MyKayla Skinner (Desert Lights), which means the crowd was treated to
quite a tumbling show. Here are the eight passes they saw: tucked double-double, double layout-half, double layout, tucked full-in (Biles, 6.5 D-score); layout double-double, tucked double-double, tucked full-in, 1.5 twist through to 2.5 twist (Skinner, 6.6 D-score).
• Simone Biles actually drops out of her Amanar vault. Amazing.
• MyKayla Skinner vaulted a Cheng Fei, worth 6.4 (roundoff, half-on, layout rudi). It looked a lot like her layout double-double on floor, because she barely touched the vault table with both hands; in slow motion, it looked almost like a one-handed vault.