Simone Biles shows she’s not coming back slowly

Simone Biles is now considered the greatest gymnast of all time. The debate over that status largely ended years ago when it began to push the boundaries of what was possible in the sport.

Their consistency is also unsurpassed. Since 2013, Biles has won 32 World Championship and Olympic medals, even after skipping several finals at the Tokyo Games in 2021 to protect her health. The question isn’t usually if Biles will win, but rather by how much.

The answer at Sunday’s US Gymnastics Championships was a 3.9-point lead over silver medalist Shilese Jones. Biles’ victory also meant she broke a 90-year record by becoming the first American gymnast, male or female, to win eight national all-around titles. And at 26, she’s the oldest woman to ever win the event.

The national championships came just weeks after their return to elite competition after a two-year hiatus. Earlier this month, she easily won a qualifier called the US Classic in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. At the SAP Center on Sunday, Biles looked better than ever amid a crowded and talented field.

That could perhaps be partly due to her attitude: “It’s just gymnastics,” she has told her younger teammates. Consistent with her laid-back demeanor, Biles hasn’t specifically said she wants to compete in the Paris Olympics next summer.

“Personal goals and stuff, I think sometimes it’s okay to keep it to yourself just so nobody can throw it in your face — ‘Well, that was your goal and you didn’t achieve it,'” Biles said then the competition. “I’m kind of at that age where I’m like, ‘Just let me be at peace. So one thing at a time.”

On Friday, the first night of competition, Biles was nearly flawless. Her two wobbles on beam and one step out on the floor exercise were overshadowed by her coming close to landing on a Jurchenko double dive, a skill so daunting that no other woman and few men attempt it. The move — she throws herself into two straight-legged 90-degree somersaults — posted a weekend high of 15,700, despite being penalized by half a point. She received the penalty because one of her coaches, Laurent Landi, stood on the podium and next to the apparatus for her safety.

Biles didn’t show the double in the warm up or in Sunday’s competition, opting to just show a hard jump called cheng. Landi said that Biles pulled an ankle doing that exercise on Friday and that there was no reason for her to repeat it just for show.

The other disciplines – uneven bars, beam and floor exercises – were the epitome of Biles: incredible height and speed and a few small jumps on landing. The biggest cheers of the competition and a standing ovation came when she clinched the championship with an impressive 15,400 strokes on the floor. Landi called it “the best floor exercise I’ve ever seen her do.”

Biles’ only bronze medal came on parallel bars, which is her weakest discipline simply because she’s so phenomenal everywhere else. Her decision to forgo a second jump on the final day of competition meant she was not eligible for a medal there.

Biles admitted she was nervous before each competition but felt empowered and prepared because she was training more efficiently. “Age helps,” she said. “I can’t afford to go to the gym and put in all those hours.”

When asked what two words would describe her feelings after the championship, she settled on “happy” and “hungry” for dinner. “Glad it’s over,” she added, and “glad to be able to compete out here again.”

For the most invested gymnastics fans, 2023 has been a peak season so far. Those championships included four members of the Tokyo team – Biles, Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee – as well as two Tokyo substitutes, Kayla DiCello and Leanne Wong. Jones, the all-around silver medalist at the 2022 Worlds, and Skye Blakely, who placed fourth in Sunday’s all-around, are clearly on the right track.

At times on Sunday it felt dizzying to keep track of every twist and turn as the gymnasts train on four apparatus simultaneously. Jones, who recently said she was recovering from a shoulder labrum tear and ankle problems, had to repeat a particularly strong jet exercise as a silver medalist in the US All-Around. Wong, who represents Florida in college, placed third and had some of her best ground landings of all time.

All of the top women could be among the five gymnasts and one reserve gymnast chosen to represent the United States at the World Championships in Belgium in just five weeks. A separate team selection camp will determine the US delegation, meaning gymnasts like Lee, Carey and Chiles, who made unusual mistakes this weekend, continue to fight for places.

Lee, the reigning all-around Olympic gold medalist and recently competing for Auburn, is recovering from kidney problems and only competes in vault and beam. She fell off the beam on Friday but recovered on Sunday and finished third on the apparatus.

Carey, the Tokyo floor exercise champion who competes for Oregon State, suffered falls on beam both nights and finished a comfortable 15th in the all-around. She placed third in the vault behind Biles’ teenage training mate Joscelyn Roberson and Blakely. Chiles, a UCLA gymnast who also trains with Biles, had a rough evening when he fell on bars and beam but recovered on floor and finished fifth in the all-around.

Maggie Astor provided coverage from New York.


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Jennifer Adams

Dedicated news writer with a passion for truth and accuracy. Covering stories that impact lives.

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