Simone Biles swears it's only a happy accident, but whenever American's newest darling steps to the balance beam and draws her chalk starting line, all anyone ever sees is dollar signs.
"You see," Biles explained Saturday night, "everybody puts their line on the beam, so I can never tell which one is mine. So, I put an 'S' on it, and it happens to turn into a dollar sign. People think I do it on purpose, but I don't."
Biles gave a sideways glance and flashed her million-dollar smile again. Yes, this spring-loaded 17-year-old is money.
Biles wasn't perfect in the P&G Gymnastics Championships senior women's final, and she didn't need to be. She swept away a 13-competitor field with ease to capture the all-around title with a 122.550 score, joining the likes of Jordyn Wieber, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin as two-time national champions.
Biles carried a mammoth 3.15-point lead into the final and watched the margin balloon to 4.25 points over runner-up Kyla Ross (118.300) and third-place finisher Maggie Nichols (117.900) before night's end.
Her coach, Aimee Boorman, said watching Biles down the stretch wasn't unlike watching a prime-time football game.
"When I watch my team play, I like them to outright win," Boorman said. "I don't want to be biting my fingernails at the end. People think, oh, that's more exciting! Not to me."
Ross, the lone 2012 Olympian in the field, shook off a rough first day to shore up a second-place finish. Ross took a close second to Biles last year, but Biles made it no contest this time. Her all-around score of 122.550 was markedly better than the 120.450 that earned her the 2013 title.
Ross also came in second to Biles at the 2013 World Gymnastics Championships but laughed about the runner-up streak Saturday, saying, "I don't think [second place] ever gets tiring."
There's little question today that Biles is the world's top women's gymnast. She'll return to the 2014 World Gymnastics Championships in October to defend her all-around title, vying to become only the second American to win back-to-back all-around gold medals at worlds.
Biles is sparkling but shy in the spotlight. Asked to put into words how she put it all together this week, she offered a shrug and a sheepish smile. She's not really sure what to say anymore.
"I just went out there, did the best I could and had a good time," she said. "If you focus on winning you'll probably be in trouble because you put so much stress on yourself."
Mary Lou Retton, who first wore the title of America's darling for her all-around gold medal and two perfect "10" performances at the 1984 Olympics, told reporters Saturday Biles "may be the most talented gymnast I've ever seen in my life, honestly."
Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist, said Wednesday Biles is her personal favorite. Douglas will return to competition next year, but she and Biles were roommates at U.S. National Team training camp.
"I love watching her floor [routine]," Douglas said. "Her double layout half is just beautiful."
It's only appropriate, then, that Biles held honors Saturday night and began the competition with a dazzling and high-flying floor routine, a tour-de-force combination of flips and twirls that earned a 15.500 score, tied for the best of the night.
Biles closed on a relative low note, albeit one that was quickly forgiven by the packed house of 12,424 fans, when she fell from the balance beam, her final routine, and received a 14.600 score.
"I was definitely a little bit off," she said. "My whole beam routine was off. It's OK." Was it a lack of concentration? "I'm not really sure, I was just on the ground."
"A fall is a fall," added U.S. National Team coach Márta Károlyi. "We definitely will need to take care of that."
Károlyi, with thin depth on the national team because of injuries and a few 2012 Olympians still working their way back into shape, said Biles' repeat title is just another small step forward.
"We are constantly reminding Simone that her goal is not winning the U.S. championship, it's to be competitive at the world level."
Raisman ready to return
Aly Raisman dreams of getting back to the Olympics, where she won two gold medals in 2012. For the time being, though, she must get back to the work that got her there in the first place.
In a session with reporters Saturday, Raisman said she is planning on going back to national-team training camp in October and expects to return to competition as soon as the 2015 Secret U.S. Classic (or potentially sooner, if she’s asked). She has been training for about a year after taking a year off from the sport following the end of the London Olympics.
Even if she doesn’t make it to Rio de Janeiro — she will be 22 by the start of the 2016 Olympics — Raisman is more than content with what she’s achieved in her career.
“I feel like I have a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I feel more relaxed and calm. I’ve already accomplished what I always dreamed of accomplishing, so now it’s just kind of more for myself, to have fun and enjoy it.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. Craig Meyer contributed to this report.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. Craig Meyer contributed to this report. Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published August 23, 2014 10:15 PM