Simone Biles, who over the past decade has revolutionized what is possible in gymnastics, is set to compete Saturday for the first time since 2021, when she won two medals at the Tokyo Olympics but also withdrew from five events to protect her mental and physical health.
Gymnastics fans have been waiting for this moment, which is widely seen as her first step toward the Paris Games in 2024. The competition, the U.S. Classic, sold out weeks ago. That is almost certainly because of Biles, 26, who could break multiple world and Olympic records in the next year.
This meet — which serves as the last opportunity for athletes to qualify for the national championships later this month — is fielding its best lineup ever. The entrants hold a cumulative 55 medals from the Olympics and world championships, according to a tally by the podcast GymCastic.
An original skill that Biles debuted in 2019 — a beam dismount of a double-twisting double back flip — was so difficult that the international gymnastics federation assigned it a lower point value than many expected, explaining that it was risky and that the group must ensure the safety of all gymnasts. A similarly lower point value was assigned to Biles’s double pike vault.
If history is any indicator, Biles should return in good form this weekend despite her hiatus from elite competition. After the Rio Games in 2016, she took two years off before winning the all-around title at the 2018 national championships by 6.55 points, a formidable margin. She then earned a total of 11 medals at the next two world championships. Nine of them were gold.
But in Tokyo, Biles had a case of what gymnasts call the “twisties,” a mind-body disconnect midair. She was unable to perform and land skills safely, and chose to forgo the all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise finals. She left Japan with a silver medal in the team event and a bronze on the balance beam.
Some wondered if Biles would leave the sport for good. In late 2021, she headlined her own 35-city gymnastics tour. Earlier this year, she married Jonathan Owens, a defensive back with the Green Bay Packers. She traveled to warm, sunny destinations with groups of girlfriends, and she and Owens began building a house.
She also has been focusing specifically on her mental health, saying on Instagram
About a month ago, Biles confirmed that she was seriously training again and would compete in the U.S. Classic. For her, the event is essentially a warm-up: She is all but certain to vie for what would be her eighth national all-around title in San Jose, Calif., on Aug. 27.
The world championships in Belgium would follow in the fall. And by next summer, it is possible that the U.S. team would be the strongest in history. The Olympic medalists Sunisa Lee, Gabrielle Douglas, Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles, as well as the Olympic alternates Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello, are trying to earn spots on the five-person squad that will head to Paris.
Douglas, 27, the all-around champion in 2012 and a team gold medalist in 2016, is the only gymnast among them who is not competing until next year. She announced her return to the sport last month.
Lee, the reigning Olympic all-around champion and one of the best uneven bars workers in the world, is expected to perform on at least two apparatuses at the Classic. But her path forward is not as clear as that of Biles.
Lee, who goes by Suni, cut short her collegiate career at Auburn and is dealing with what was described as kidney issues. The rules say that if she competes in only two events this weekend, she must score well and file a petition with U.S.A. Gymnastics that allows her to advance to the national championships and possibly the world championships.
If Biles and Lee both head to Belgium, they would be the first Olympic all-around champions to compete on the same world championship team, said Jessica O’Beirne, a host of GymCastic. “It would send gymnastics fans into an utter fan ecstasy,” she said.
On Saturday, they will perform in the evening session at the Classic, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The event will be streamed live on Peacock and aired on CNBC.