Simone Biles made everyone forget the United States came to the world championships without the defending and Olympic champions, edging teammate Kyla Ross to win the all-around gold medal on Friday.
Biles and Ross were close throughout the evening, with Ross matching Biles’ athleticism and power with grace and elegance, leaving it to the final floor exercise.
The 16-year-old Biles jumped, twisted and strutted, and it turned into a victory dance in front of the many thousands clapping to her music at the Sports Palace.
"On floor, I just have a lot of fun," Biles said. "That is the main key."
Aliya Mustafina of Russia, the 2010 champion, took bronze.
Biles also qualified for all four apparatus finals this weekend — the first female U.S. gymnast to do so since Shannon Miller in 1991.
Defending champion Jordyn Wieber and Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas skipped the event. Wieber is a student at UCLA and Douglas has not been training much since the London Olympics.
Ross, also 16, led by 0.016 points going into the floor routine, but Biles turned up her performance to win. Biles scored 60.216 points, while Ross ended with 59.332 and Mustafina had 58.856.
Biles and Ross showed the depth of the U.S. team in the new Olympic cycle ahead of the 2016 Rio Games.
"We are hoping that these girls keep going all the way to the Olympics," U.S. women’s coach Martha Karolyi said.
Good friends, Biles and Ross can go a long way together.
"We don’t really think … of each other like competition," Biles said. "So we try to have it the best way and think `Wow, this is worlds, we still cannot even believe it.’"
Biles had a strong vault with extreme difficulty, which needed only a small corrective step at the end to give her a big score. Ross competed with smoothness and grace, but had a lower degree of difficulty.
Ross made it even tighter with a flowing performance on the uneven bars to trail Biles by less than a tenth of a point halfway through the contest, with Mustafina a half point behind.
Then it came down to the balance beam, so often a decider in major championships.
Biles went first and showed poise belying her age, nailing all the big jumps. Ross did even better and barely moved in front with a 44.999 score compared to Biles’ 44.983.
It set up the perfect finale for a U.S. team that had dominated the women’s event all week.
Even if Ross looked near flawless in her floor routine, her starting difficulty was much lower, which helped make the difference. The two Americans awaited their scores and embraced after the event.
"They did everything they were prepared for," Karolyi said. "Lot of psychological work. Building up their confidence level is the key."