The Simone Biles Comeback Continues At Full Speed
9:38 AM EDT on August 28, 2023
SAN JOSE, Calif. — On the first night of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Simone Biles soared above the crowd and the field with her Yurchenko double pike—a roundoff onto the springboard, a back handspring onto the vault table, followed by two flips in the pike position. All it takes is a few seconds from start to finish, yet the YDP is so difficult that few men in the world do it and no woman has landed it in international competition. And there was Biles, sticking a near-perfect landing, a megawatt grin flashing across her face as soon as her feet touched the mat. She had, once again, made the demanding look easy, even graceful.
On the second night, she took it a bit easier—relatively speaking. On vault, she competed only once, with a Cheng, which she executed so well that she garnered the highest score of the night. That, along with her performances on beam, uneven bars, and floor all added up to more than enough to claim yet another all-around national title on Sunday. It's her eighth, yet another record.
The crowd knew exactly what it had seen over these two days. When Biles finished her final event of the night—floor—the crowd gave her a standing ovation, which continued at the insistence of Biles's teammate and hype-woman Jordan Chiles. Even when the meet ended, almost nobody left. The vast majority of the crowd, estimated by USA Gymnastics at close to 12,000, stayed glued to their seats, waiting for the moment when Biles received her medal and flowers so they could roar even more.
It's absolutely true that the TV cameras don't fully capture to just how high Biles sails when she competes, and especially on the YDP. In person, it looks like the closest thing comparable to human flight. And that vault comes with a very high point value, on Friday night Biles scored a whopping 15.7 for the skill (which includes a .5 deduction for her coach spotting her). At this meet, it catapulted Biles to the top of the results, where her name would stay, only dropping occasionally through the weird fluke of certain gymnasts finishing an apparatus earlier than her. (For comparison, only one other gymnast recorded any score that started with 15; Shilese Jones scored a 15.0 on uneven bars on the second night.)
On floor on Sunday, Biles's routine was spectacular, nearly flawless except for the tiniest little hop on the landing of her third tumbling pass. It also was the hardest routine attempted by any gymnast that night. It scored at 15.4. The engaged crowd fell mostly silent during Biles performance, except for a stray "come on, Simone," before bursting with cheers and screams at the end.
Afterward, speaking to reporters, Biles talked about her progression from the U.S. Classic last month, which she won by a lot, to this weekend's national championship, which she also won by a lot.
"Classics, I still feel like I was second-guessing myself, not sure if I was ready, not sure if I could do my skills and all that stuff," Biles said. "So now I feel really comfortable and getting the confidence out there as well."
When asked what brought her back, Biles laughed and said: "I'm gonna give it one more go, and then we'll see."
Both Friday night and Sunday night featured extremely supportive crowds, every night dotted with signs like "Go Simone Biles" and "Queen Simone." They cheered for her when she stepped onto the podium to salute the judges; they cheered when she landed big skills; they cheered when she finished. The crowd also included Biles's parents, who color-coordinated each night with her leotards, purple for night one and black for night two.
But it wasn't just Biles the crowd loved. Many of the biggest cheers were for returning Olympians Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Jade Carey. All three competed collegiately after Tokyo, then decided to come back to elite. Chiles finished fifth, falling on uneven bars and beam on Sunday after a strong first night. Carey finished 15th after having a shaky performance on the first night and a much better one on the second, yet still with wobble and a fall on beam.
Reigning Olympic all-around champion Lee, who is not training at full strength due to a kidney condition, competed on just two apparatus, beam and vault, but looked excellent on both, with her beam routine earning the third-highest score of day two, after Biles and Jones.
In fact, it was Tokyo alternate Leanne Wong who seemed to be making the smoothest return to elite after competing collegiately at Florida. Wong finished in second place at the U.S. Classic, and this weekend, facing even more competition, finished third, behind Biles and Jones (and threw in a Gator chomp for good measure).
If you remember one name from this dispatch that isn't Biles's, make it Jones's. While fair-weather gymnastics fans might have been looking elsewhere, Jones has built up an impressive body of work, winning the silver medal in the all-around and on bars at the World Championships in 2022, as well as being a part of the U.S. team that won gold in that competition. She hadn't competed for about 10 months due to injuries before this, but she looked strong across every apparatus and shone on the uneven bars, where across two days here she posted monster scores of 14.9 and 15. She would have been national champion if not for Biles.
Finishing fourth was Skye Blakely. Blakely too was a part of the gold-medal team at Worlds in 2022, and she won three medals at the Pan-American Championships that year. She could very well make the final U.S. squads for Worlds and Paris.
And I could go on. The talent that the U.S team will have to choose from going into Worlds and the Olympics is mind-boggling. Nobody needs to worry about the amount of women's artistic gymnastic talent in the U.S.; it's doing just fine.
Still, Biles was the woman of the night, and everyone knew it. USA Gymnastics technical lead Chellsie Memmel talked about her afterward, Biles's coach Laurent Landi—who, along with his wife, Cecile, coached a total of six gymnasts at the event—was only asked about her. Even other gymnasts were asked about her. They took it in stride. As Chiles said when asked about making sure the crowd applauded her teammate:
"This is a hard sport, you know. She's 26 years old, and she's doing big gymnastics. And so when you can succeed and do everything that you're doing, you should give people their flowers. And so, in that moment, I just felt like it was needed."
"And yes," Chiles added with a laugh, "I still had to go. But it was really cool to see something so great and beautiful."