HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Simone Biles began her first competition in 732 days by briefly running around during introductions, unsure of where she was supposed to go.
It’s the only time she seemed out of place. Once Biles saluted the judges, it was the same as it ever was.
Biles soared to victory in the U.S. Classic on Saturday night in her return following a two-year layoff after the Tokyo Olympics, the case of “ the twisties ” that forced her to take herself out of multiple events in Japan seemingly firmly in her rearview mirror.
Wearing a black-and-white bedazzled leotard, the 26-year-old Biles seemed in her element in front of a sold-out NOW Arena crowd that was littered with signs of support. Her all-around score of 59.100 was easily the best of the night, remarkable considering she’d only really started training seriously in late April after her marriage to NFL defensive back Jonathan Owens.
She’s taken a muted approach to her return to the sport she’s spent the last decade redefining. Biles admitted as recently as last week that it took her a bit to recover from “the twisties,” slang for a mental block that caused her to lose her air awareness but stressed that she was “good.”
Certainly looked like it.
Wearing No. 231 and sporting — at least before she began competing — a necklace bearing “Owens” in tribute to her husband, she seemed equal parts and relaxed and energized.
She began on uneven bars, not far from a sign featuring a goat (a symbol for “Greatest of All Time”) that read “Simone Freaking Biles.” She wasn’t perfect, nearly stalling near the end of her routine. She muscled up and stayed on and when she hit her dismount, she cut her eyes off to the side as if to say “sheesh.”
Her score of 14.000 was the third best of the competition and a signal of things to come. She was as solid and steady as ever on balance beam, where she won a bronze in Tokyo after a week of uncertainty, a medal she’s described as one of the sweetest of her career.
She never officially closed the door on Paris, even after a tumultuous stay in Japan. She’s spent most of the last two years preparing for her wedding and planning the rest of her life.
Still, the lure of the gym tugged at her, though she took a more muted approach to her comeback than in 2018 or in the run-up to Tokyo in 2021.
At the moment, she’s letting her gymnastics do the talking. And they spoke loud and clear.
She was dynamic on floor exercise, where her tumbling passes have long been showstoppers. While she and coaches Laurent and Cecile Landi have tweaked her routines a bit to better take advantage of the sport’s updated Code of Points, she still does some of the most challenging gymnastics in the sport typically with seemingly effortless ease.
Biles kept all three of her tumbling passes on the floor inbounds, something that was a problem at times in 2021. Her score of 14.900 included a start value of 6.8, a massive amount of difficulty considering no other athlete had a start value over 5.9.
She finished with a Yurchenko double-pike vault, a roundoff onto the table followed by two back flips with her hands clasped behind her knees. It’s a vault she toyed with in 2021 hoping to pull off in Tokyo.
It never happened. It still might in Paris. She hopped a little bit after landing as the arena exploded, her 15.400 more than a full point better than any of the other 30+ athletes managed.
The Classic is considered a warm-up of sorts in the calendar. The U.S. Championships are later this month, with the world championships coming in October and the Olympics less than a year out.
There is plenty of time to refine things. To expand. To build. Biles’ all-around score Saturday was higher than what she posted at the same meet in 2018. What followed was two years of dominance.
More may be on the way.
AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games