Simone Biles makes gymnastics return at U.S. Classic, knowing she has more to give

Simone Biles
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At the end of Simone Biles‘ most recent gymnastics meet, she lifted five gold medals from around her neck in an image shared around the globe.

That was at the October 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart. Biles performed at the peak of her powers, but it was believed to foreshadow a farewell tour. Curtains were to fall in August 2020 in Tokyo.

“Everybody has to end it some time,” she said that autumn evening in Germany, after upping her career world champs medal counts to records of 25 total and 19 golds. “You can’t keep going for the rest of your life.”

On Saturday, Biles competes for the first time in 587 days at the U.S. Classic in Indianapolis (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). It’s a tune-up for the U.S. Championships and Olympic Trials, both in June.

She is the last American (global?) sports megastar to return to the field of play during the pandemic. Biles is all but assured a place on the U.S. team for Tokyo before she salutes a single judge, so these meets are about ramping up for the rescheduled Tokyo Games that open July 23.

“It’s more stressful whenever I go out and compete,” Biles told NBC in February. “It’s just scary. Because I go out, and I’m like, can I do it again? Can I be this good? And can I repeat what I did last year, last time, last Olympics?”

Biles never felt so prepared for a season of spring and summer meets as on that March 2020 morning. She entered her family’s gym, the World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas.

Biles checked her phone as she gathered grips to mount the uneven bars. She saw a text from her older brother: the Olympics are postponed. Biles teared up. Could she put off retirement for an extra year?

Training partner Jordan Chiles was there.

“I just don’t know if I can do this,” Biles told her.

Biles wasn’t always certain to come back after winning four Olympic titles in Rio. She voiced doubts again last spring.

“She was saying she was done,” said Biles’ mom, Nellie. “She could not see herself hang on for another year.”

Biles was out of the gym for seven weeks due to pandemic measures. She chose to return.

“What motivates me is to strive to be better than I was before,” she said.

ON HER TURF: Silence is compliance: Morgan Hurd’s call to action

Biles turned 23 the week before the Olympic postponement. While not the oldest U.S. elite gymnast, she is older than every previous female U.S. Olympic gymnast since 2004. She would be the oldest American woman to compete in an Olympic all-around final since Kathy Johnson in 1984, according to Olympedia.org.

Women’s gymnastics was a teen-dominated sport from the 1970s until the last few years. Biles is the only non-teen to win a U.S. all-around title since 1971.

Others recently excelled in their 20s and beyond, from Aly Raisman to 45-year-old Oksana Chusovitina (going to her eighth Olympics this summer) to the current women of Japan, the first nation without a teen on its Olympic team event roster since 1964.

Biles returned to the gym last May, and the aches, pains and soreness were there. Her recovery is slower than in past years. Daily naps — two hours is the rarely achieved goal — are essential.

Last winter, another gymnast asked how long she’s been in the sport. Seventeen years, Biles answered.

“I’m not even 17 yet!” the gymnast replied.

Biles compared one year on a gymnast’s body to five years on somebody else in wear and tear. The nation’s best compete at a handful of meets every year, but training is daily. It’s 34 hours per week for Biles.

“But I feel stronger this year than last year, physically, mentally,” Biles, who since Rio cracked a rib, broke at least one toe and won world titles with a kidney stone, said in February.

That sentiment manifests in a vault that no woman has performed — a Yurchenko double pike. Biles plans to do it in competition before the Olympics. It could be the fifth “Biles” skill named after her in the sport’s Code of Points among floor exercise, balance beam and vault.

Video of that vault is here.

As Biles’ father, Ron, said, “She does some crazy stuff.”

ON HER TURF: Jordan Chiles rekindled her love of gymnastics by moving 1,800 miles

When she retires, which could be this summer or in 2024, Biles wants to be remembered not just for taking gymnastics to new heights.

“Also for making a change for the newer generations to come, so that they feel comfortable entering the sport,” she said.

Biles came forward as an abuse survivor in January 2018, during a near-two-year break from competition. Since, she used her platform to hold people and organizations in power accountable, most notably USA Gymnastics.

“Gymnastics wasn’t the only thing I was supposed to come back for,” she said. “I had to come back to the sport to be a voice.”

Biles has four meets from now through August after not competing at all for 19 months. At the end of the final one, in Tokyo, she may well be photographed lifting five gold medals once again.

“I’m just doing what I love and sharing that with the world,” she said.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
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The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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International Boxing Association lifts ban on Russia, Belarus

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The International Boxing Association (IBA) lifted its ban on amateur boxers from Russia and Belarus over the war in Ukraine that had been in place since early March.

“The IBA strongly believes that politics shouldn’t have any influence on sports,” the federation said in a press release. “Hence, all athletes should be given equal conditions.”

Most international sports federations banned athletes from Russia and Belarus indefinitely seven months ago, acting after an IOC recommendation. It is believed that the IBA is the first international federation in an Olympic sport to lift its ban.

The IOC has not officially changed its recommendation from last winter to exclude Russia and Belarus athletes “to protect the integrity of the events and the safety of the other participants.”

Last week, IOC President Thomas Bach said in an interview with an Italian newspaper that Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could at some point be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag.

IBA, in lifting its ban, will also allow Russia and Belarus flags and national anthems.

“The time has now come to allow all the rest of the athletes of Russia and Belarus to participate in all the official competitions of their sports representing their countries,” IBA President Umar Kremlev, a Russian, said in a press release last week. “Both the IOC and the International Federations must protect all athletes, and there should be no discrimination based on nationality. It is the duty of all of us to keep sports and athletes away from politics.”

In 2019, the IOC stripped the IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition following an inquiry committee report into finance, governance, refereeing and judging. The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

The IBA will not run qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Games, but it does still hold world championships, the next being a men’s event in Uzbekistan next year.

Boxing, introduced on the Olympic program in 1904, was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games but can still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” Bach said last December.

On Sept. 23, the IBA suspended Ukraine’s boxing federation, citing “government interference.” Ukraine boxers are still allowed to compete with their flag and anthem.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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