BOSTON — Is Simone Biles‘ comeback saving gymnastics? She received plenty of feedback to that effect since her return last month.
“It’s both exciting but kind of scary because I don’t want them to be completely dependent on me for the sport to continue,” Biles said Wednesday at training for this week’s U.S. Championships (TV/stream schedule here). “It’s not fair to me, because I can’t carry the whole gymnastics world.”
Biles just about picked up where she left off at the U.S. Classic on July 28, winning her first meet since Rio with the world’s best score of this Olympic cycle. Despite a fall off the uneven bars.
She goes into nationals a clear favorite, looking to become the first woman to win five U.S. all-around titles.
“I feel so honored to compete with such a legend,” said Morgan Hurd, who was crowned the world’s best gymnast of 2017 by winning the world championships all-around in October in Biles’ absence. “I would hope that maybe one of us can come close to catching her.”
No question that Biles’ return is a shot in the arm for the sport. While she was away, Larry Nassar‘s decades of sexual abuse crimes were revealed, followed by changes in USA Gymnastics leadership.
Biles keeps focus on the gymnastics, at least for this week. That carries its own challenges.
“I felt a little bit more confident at Classics,” she said of the July 28 comeback meet. “I’m worried about the two-day competition [this week], not to burn out.”
The four-time Rio gold medalist said she’s competing on one toe that’s shattered in five pieces and another (on the other foot) that is cracked. That limited her floor exercise and vault training.
And then there’s what she said on social media about bronchitis. Just yesterday she returned to feeling normal for the first time in two weeks. She saw a doctor Tuesday and was prescribed medicine.
Biles could feel bogged down by the pressure or the health setbacks. But she remembers a mantra at her gym taken from Yoda.
“We don’t say try,” she said. “It’s do.”
Biles doesn’t plan to upgrade any of her routines from the U.S. Classic three weeks ago. Other podium favorites may look different.
Defending national all-around champion Ragan Smith will compete on all four events after doing three at the U.S. Classic. Hurd, who won the world all-around title after the favored Smith withdrew with an ankle injury, said she and others are closer to peak form.
Everybody is competing for places on the five-woman team for the world championships in Doha. But that team will not be chosen until after an October selection camp. That lightens the pressure, even if Biles might feel the weight of the sport’s world now and possibly through what she plans to be her final Olympics in two years.
“Say I make Tokyo, and I don’t walk away with as many medals, you know, I tried,” she said. “That’s all I can ask for from myself.”
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