Confident Biles on top after first day of senior women’s all-around

600By Jo-Ann Barnas

PITTSBURGH – There is cool. And then there is Simone Biles.

In a dazzling display of confidence and power, the defending world and U.S. champion was a sight to behold on the opening day of the senior women’s competition at the P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Had anyone thought that the 17-year-old from Spring, Texas would wither under the pressure of her breakout season last year, well, they don’t know Biles.

Her total score of 61.80 on Thursday night at the Consol Energy Center was 3.15 points better than second-place Maggie Nichols (58.650). Alyssa Baumann was third (58.40), just ahead of 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross (57.950).

“She’s just amazing,” said Nichols of Twin City Twisters in Minnesota. “She’s just so good. I look up to her a lot.”

Yes. Biles was flying high on just about every apparatus. Wearing a black-and-white leotard adorned with sparkles, Biles strutted between rotations with the air of a champion prize fighter. She posted the top scores on balance beam (15.70), floor exercise (15.650) and 15.90 for her Amanar vault.

The only event that she didn’t take first on was her last – uneven bars, which Biles conceded remains her nemesis. The front of her thighs displaying thick smears of white chalk, Biles’ score of 14.550 was fifth-best among the eight women in the all-around. Ashton Locklear of Everest took first on that event with a 15.850.

Biles said she was steadied after her morning practice by USA Gymnastics women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who reminded the gymnast “to be confident in everything (you) do.”

Heading into her first event, balance beam, Biles admitted that she was a little jittery because she was competing last in her group. She said she looked to her best pal, Ross, for support.

“She was asking me, ‘What do I do to stay calm?’’ Ross said.

And Ross knows well what happened next.

“She went out and did a good beam set,’’ Ross said with a smile.

MyKayla Skinner, who trains at Desert Lights in Gilbert, Ariz., said: “She’s just Simone. She knows how to deal with the pressure.”

But how?

“Simone, she’s just always so happy,” said Baumann (of WOGA in Dallas), who delivered steady routines all evening. “Nothing fazes her. She interacts with the crowd and she cheers on everybody else. After each routine, I can hear her when I’m doing my routines, saying, ‘Good job! You got it!’’’

As for Ross, the lone London Olympian in the competition, she seemed dismayed but not defeated by her off night in which mistakes marred her routines on uneven bars (13.950) and floor exercise, when she fell on her opening tumbling pass. On that event, the gymnast from Aliso Viejo, Calif., scored a 13.750.

Biles will attempt to become the first gymnast since Jordyn Wieber to successfully defend her national title on Saturday night. Wieber won back-to-back senior titles in 2011 and 2012.

And, surprisingly, she will be keeping an eye on the scoreboard after each event. Believe it or not, it calms her down, she said.

“I like knowing it because it scares me if I don’t know my score,” she said with a laugh.