By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Olympic gymnastics all-around champion Nastia Liukin said on Wednesday that fellow American Simone Biles is the best gymnast she has seen and predicts the petite dynamo will be the darling of the Rio Games.
Liukin, who claimed gold with elegant aplomb at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said she can hardly wait for the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games and was hard-pressed to name Biles' main competition.
"To be honest, she's her own competition," Liukin told Reuters on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, where she helped throw the switch to light the skyscraper in Team USA red, white and blue to mark 100 days out from the Rio Games.
"She's just competing against herself. She's the best gymnast I've ever seen.
"And obviously the most dominant so far, even without any Olympic medal, just looking at her world championships medal count. The gymnastics that she does is just absolutely incredible. She brings it to a different level."
Liukin will be in Rio as a TV commentator for NBC and is tingling with excitement over what she expects to witness.
"It's been fun for me just to commentate. You're sitting on the edge of your seat. In your mind you're thinking how is that even possible," she said about the tumbling passes Biles is able to produce at the end of her routines.
"America is going to fall in love with her. She's just bubbly and giggly and enjoys life and loves gymnastics."
Liukin said the 4-foot-9 (1.45 meters) Biles, who turned 19 two weeks ago, has raised the bar each year in becoming the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles among a total haul of 14 medals, 10 of them gold.
"She's added more difficulty every single year. Just when you think she can't get any better, she can't add any more difficulty, she does," gushed Liukin.
"Aly Raisman and Gabby (Douglas) from the Fierce Five will be pushing Simone," Liukin said about the duo that were members of the gold medal winning team at the 2012 London Games, where Douglas claimed the all-around crown.
"Some of the Russian gymnasts and Chinese gymnasts are also fighting their way but really, in the last three years no one has been able to come close to her."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)