ANTWERP -- How do you get a gymnast to handle the heavy pressure of being a favorite at her very first World Championships? Simple -- give her something to be even more scared of.
"I was telling Brenna [Dowell] in the back that Martha [Karolyi] scares me even more than the judges," 16-year-old Simone Biles confessed to reporters after breezing to the lead in all-around qualification during the third of five subdivisions at Worlds.
Biles had the advantage of doing her two weaker events, bars and beam, first, then going to floor and vault, the power events where she really excels. She tallied 60.133 points overall and currently leads event finals qualification on vault and floor exercise. Teammate Kyla Ross, who performed in the first subdivision, is currently second with 59.198 points overall.
Biles's off the cuff comment in the mixed zone shows just how important Karolyi, 71, is to the U.S. women's team: Part motivator, part preparer and all omnipresent force, it's harder to block out Karolyi's presence than it is to perform with the eyes of the world watching. The Americans perform for her approval, and her standards are obviously higher than those of the international judges.
Biles, who first gained attention as a 12-year-old capable of doing a double-twisting double layout into a pit in her gym, is a force of nature herself. Although she seemed slightly nervous on bars and beam, any clouds in her head had cleared by the third rotation, where she went out and executed a calm but extremely powerful floor set that featured a double layout with a half twist at the end, something no woman has successfully done before at the World Championships. The skill will be named The Biles in the code of points from now on.
"It's not the best that I've done, but I get a skill named after me, so that's exciting," Biles said in the mixed zone.
Her performance also leaves teammate McKayla Maroney with her work cut out for her in the next subdivision. Maroney needs to beat either Biles's or Ross's all-around score to make it into the all-around finals due to the two-per-country rule at the World Championships and Olympic Games.