- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The realization didn’t hit Simone Biles until days later.

Sitting in her meticulously organized bedroom in suburban Houston last winter, the teenager was idly watching the news she heard the anchor say her name.

At some point during the piece - maybe it was when the anchor said “world champion gymnast Simone Biles”- the weight of great expectations on her chiseled shoulders finally lifted.

“That’s when she lost it,” Nellie Biles said of her daughter. “She did a lot of crying. It was a relief more than anything.”

Nearly a year later, Biles’ breakthrough has turned into a springboard.

The 17-year-old with the powder keg legs and superwatt smile arrives at this weekend’s U.S. gymnastics championships a heavy favorite to defend her national title - and cement her status as a budding star ahead of the Rio Olympics.

“It’s really weird,” Biles said. “I’m just Simone to me.”

Just not the Simone she was a year ago.

Biles arrived in Chicago for the Secret Classic in July 2013 as the leader of the next wave of Americans behind the podium-hogging “Fierce Five” that soared to gold at the London Olympics.

She stumbled her way to 13th and was so exasperated afterward she promptly headed up to her hotel room, popped in the video of her mistake-riddled performance and started cackling.

“You kind of have to laugh at it,” Biles said.

The catharsis paved the way for her easy victory at nationals a month later and her coronation at the world championships in Belgium last October.

When she’s on, Biles is the closest thing to a sure thing in gymnastics these days.

After missing the American Cup in March with an injured shoulder she vanquished some demons and crushed the field in the process in the 2014 Secret Classic three weeks ago.

“Competing again makes me happy,” Biles said.

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