Simone Biles Aims to Vault Farther Ahead of the Pack

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At a training session on Wednesday ahead of the United States Gymnastics Championships, Simone Biles wore a leotard with a bedazzled goat on the back.

It was a reminder, in case people somehow forgot, that she is the greatest American gymnast of all time. With a combined 25 world championship and Olympic medals, including 18 golds, Biles stands alone atop the medal standings.

She got to this point by fearlessly performing elements that no one else has dared go near, and when Biles begins her quest on Friday for a record-tying sixth national title, she plans to debut another difficult trick: a triple double (two flips with three twists) in the floor exercise.

It would be the third time that Biles has introduced a new element to the women’s side of the sport. She may attempt the triple double again on Sunday, when the women’s all-around title will be decided.

“I feel like you should never settle just because you are winning or you are at the top,” Biles said after her Wednesday training session, where she successfully completed the triple double four times. “You should always push yourself.”

The triple double is a skill that, until this point, has been done only on the men’s side, where it is still rare. None of the men at the national championships are expected to try one, and most of Biles’s competitors can’t even do a double-double.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that someone would be doing that, I’d be like: ‘That seems a little hard and dangerous. I don’t know,’” said Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion who is now an analyst for NBC Sports. “Of course, if anyone can do it, it’s obviously her.”

When Biles’s coach, Laurent Landi, approached her about working on the triple double last year, she had her doubts. She played around with the skill a few years ago, but only in a foam pit, which protected her from getting hurt if she messed up.

“My first reaction is no,” Biles said. “Then he has to push me towards it until I’m ready to do it myself, and I’m like, ‘O.K., it’s really not that bad.’

“He almost makes the impossible possible sometimes, and I don’t know how he does it.”

Now Biles has such a command of the move that she often bounces out of the landing, a sign that she has more than enough power to complete it.

After taking nearly two years off from competition after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she won the all-around title, Biles has been as dominant as ever, winning six medals, four of them gold, at last year’s world championships.

Much has changed, though, within the United States national team. At 22, Biles is one of its oldest members, the designated leader of the team and an important example to the younger gymnasts.

She is also the only remaining member of the 2016 Olympic team and the only active elite gymnast who has publicly identified herself as a survivor of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Lawrence G. Nassar, the national team’s former doctor.

While others in the sport, particularly her 2016 Olympic teammate Aly Raisman, spoke out about the failure of U.S.A. Gymnastics to protect its young athletes, Biles remained relatively quiet. Recently, though, her stance has shifted. Biles has used her Twitter account to express frustration with the sport’s national governing body, and she became emotional while talking on Wednesday about the aftermath of the scandal.

“I do want to be a voice,” Biles said, “but it takes time.”

Although she is still figuring out how and when to best use her voice, Biles has always led by example. All eyes were on her during the training session: Her fellow athletes and coaches stopped their workouts to watch her, even applauding after she completed a skill.

Biles is also taking time to help the next generation. She was out on the floor 30 minutes before her training period, talking with the junior gymnasts, athletes under the age of 16, as they practiced.

“It’s super helpful,” said Karis German, 15, who trains at Biles’s gym. “She gives us tips on how to make things.”

At this stage, it has become Biles’s goal to build a community for herself and the other gymnasts. Few people on the outside, she said, can understand what they are going through, so supporting one another is important.

Biles trained alone in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics, but now has elite teammates at World Champions Centre in Spring, Tex., the gym her family owns. She trains alongside about a dozen other gymnasts and regularly invites teammates over to her house just to chill between training sessions.

Biles began working with Landi —who previously coached Madison Kocian, one of Biles’s 2016 Olympic teammates — after she returned from Rio. She trained from age 7 to 19 under Aimee Boorman, who moved to become the executive director of a gym in Florida.

Biles has admitted that her love for the sport was sometimes diminished, especially as she grappled with the emotional trauma of the Nassar revelations. But she has worked to find more joy outside the gym, spending time with friends, family and Lilo, the French bulldog she adopted last year. It’s important, she said, to have balance in her life as she trains for her second Olympic Games.

“At the end of the day, once I look up and it’s coming to 6 o’clock, I’m out of there,” she said with a smile. “I don’t try to lollygag around the gym or anything. Sometimes I don’t even stretch. I’m just like, ‘O.K., I’m leaving, sorry.’”

The shift in priorities has not reduced Biles’s training, and she remains at the vanguard of her sport. If Biles completes the triple double at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, in October, the trick will be forever known as the Biles II. Her two other innovations — a floor exercise pass that succeeded at worlds in 2013 and a vault she landed last year — are simply called the Biles, because each was her first addition to a particular event.

Biles has been practicing another novelty, a double-double dismount from the balance beam, which she is hoping to debut this weekend as well.

“They are being pushed by Simone,” Tom Forster, the performance director for the national women’s team, said of her competitors. “Let’s be honest: Everyone is trying to keep up.”