Biles, 17, surges to lead seniors at P&G Gymnastics Championship

It was billed from the beginning as a long-awaited showdown between Simone Biles, the defending champion at the P&G Gymnastics Championships, and the runner-up, Kyla Ross.

The opening night of senior women's competition at Consol Energy Center saw Biles and Ross grouped together, too, with Biles trailing two spots behind Ross at every rotation. And it served to illustrate a point the gymnastics world has known for some time now.

Anything you can stick, Simone can stick better.

After Ross and Biles landed huge numbers on the balance beam, they moved to the floor. Ross, a 2012 Olympian, had an uncharacteristic fall on her opening whip-to-double-Arabian pass, a recent installation to her routine, and stomached a 13.750 score.

The rare mistake gave the champ more than enough space than she would need to surge ahead for good.

Biles stepped to the mat and delivered, flipping her 4-foot-9 frame high into the air on four consecutive clean and dramatic tumbling passes. The crowd roared at her final landing, and again at the 15.650 score.

Yes, it was her night.

Biles, 17, cemented herself into unquestioned front-runner position entering Saturday's final with an all-around 61.800 score Thursday. Her all-around score, as well as her tallies on balance beam (15.700), vault (15.900) and floor (15.650), were all better marks than she received either day of the national championships last year.

Maggie Nichols (58.650) and Alyssa Baumann (58.400) rounded out the top three, but at a deficit of 3.150, it's nowhere near a close race. Biles held a lead of just .750 entering the final last year.

Biles showed no nerves, but she admitted being the final competitor of the first rotation made her a little queasy, as she was eager to begin her title defense.

"I don't mind starting on beam, because that's what I start on at the gym every day, but I was nervous just because I was last," she said. "Waiting and waiting and waiting makes me antsy."

Ross came up short on the uneven bars, her final rotation, and settled for a 57.950 all-around score, putting her in fourth place among the nine all-around competitors entering the final.

"It was a really rocky night," Ross said afterward, her usually bright face straight and sullen. "It's been tough. I just really need to go back in on day two and be more aggressive and more confident."

The issue was not that Ross heard the proverbial footsteps of the defending champ behind her.

"That doesn't make it any tougher," she said. "Gymnastics is a sport where you either hit or miss. That's just something you get used to."

Biles called the group of 13 gymnasts "one big family" and said it hurt to see Ross take a tumble.

"I look up to her so much," Biles said. "Whenever I see people having a rough day, it just makes me sad. ... In the end, you want the best for each other. We only have each other, and we know the struggles we go through."

Biles' 15.900 on vault was the highest score posted by any gymnast on opening night, with Ashton Locklear's 15.850 on the uneven bars second.

The championships continue today at Consol Energy Center with the junior men's competition at 1 p.m. and the seniors at 7 p.m.

A look back

The 2004 U.S. Olympic men's and women's gymnastics teams reunited to reflect on the 10-year anniversary of their twin silver team medals in Athens.

Paul Hamm, who won a controversial gold medal in the all-around, said it's hard to believe it has been a full decade since the men's team captured the first U.S. team medal in 20 years.

"It doesn't quite feel like it was yesterday," Hamm said. "But I do feel like time went by very quickly. It doesn't feel like that long ago, it really doesn't."

For Carly Patterson, the women's all-around gold medalist in Athens, perspective has come with time.

"The older I get, the more I understand and appreciate what I did and how huge it was," Patterson said. "I look back and really cherish all those memories."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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