Simone Biles won in her first gymnastics meet since October 2019, landed the world’s most difficult vault and launched into what should be an historic and perhaps final Olympic season.
She fell off the uneven bars and put her hands down on the floor exercise, but has two months to fix the flaws.
Biles, the four-time Rio gold medalist wearing a rhinestone goat on the back of her leotard, prevailed at the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for the year’s biggest meets: U.S. Championships, Olympic Trials and Tokyo Games.
Biles totaled 58.4 points in Indianapolis. She hasn’t lost an all-around in eight years. Training partner Jordan Chiles took second, 1.3 behind. Some of the Olympic team contenders strategically didn’t compete on all four apparatuses.
“It was really nerve-racking, but I’m just happy to be back out here,” Biles said on NBCSN. “I’m not really mad about today.”
Biles’ highlight was a vault that no women and few men have performed in competition — a Yurchenko double pike. She had too much power, over-rotating and bounding several feet beyond her otherwise clean landing.
“Well, I made it, so … ” Biles said as she walked off. She then sat down and checked her phone.
If she lands it at the Olympics, it will be the fifth skill named after her.
THE QUEEN HAS SPOKEN 👑
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) May 23, 2021
Biles was disappointed that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) gave a preliminary (but not final) 6.6 difficulty value, making it the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics by two tenths of a point. She believes it should be 6.8, and U.S. high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster is on her side.
Biles likened it to 2019, when she debuted a balance beam dismount that was given a difficulty score two tenths lower than what she believed it should be. Biles called that decision “bull—-” two years ago. The FIG chose the lower value in part due to concern over safety. Gymnasts could be more willing to try the dismount — a double-twisting double back — before they were ready if the difficulty value was higher.
“There’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to reward it the correct value, but that’s OK,” Biles said Saturday of the vault. “They’re both too low, and they even know it, but they don’t want the field to be too far apart. … They had an open-end Code of Points [instituted in 2006], and now they’re mad that people are too far ahead and excelling.”
ON HER TURF: Every replay of Biles’ new vault
Elsewhere, Biles fell off the uneven bars, an event that was her nemesis in the last Olympic cycle.
She also made a rare mistake on her trademark event, floor exercise, in a routine that her “Dancing with the Stars” partner, Sasha Farber, helped choreograph.
After landing two more eponymous skills — a triple-double and a double layout with a half twist — she put her hands down on the floor on a double-double on her final tumbling pass. She still had the highest floor score by three tenths thanks largely to her unmatched difficulty score.
“I’m proud of how today went, even though it was a little bit rough and uncharacteristic,” she said.
Gymnasts were preparing for the U.S. Championships in two weeks in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Olympic Trials from June 24-27 in St. Louis.
At Trials, the top two women in the all-around combining scores from both days automatically make the team. Jade Carey already qualified for one of up to two spots in individual events only. A selection committee fills out the rest of the six-woman roster.
Biles, 24, was planning for 2020 to be her final year of competition. She was in tears after the Olympic postponement. She told her mom that she couldn’t see herself extending her career one more year in a sport where teens prosper (with increasing exceptions).
But Biles found motivation in, as her mom has often told her before meets, being the best Simone. Improving on her already unprecedented skill set. And continuing to be a voice for change and accountability in the sport after coming forward as an abuse survivor.
There were no significant gymnastics meets in 2020 after the pandemic halted sports. Biles’ planned return event in Tokyo earlier this month was canceled. So it ended up being 587 days between competitions for arguably the world’s best athlete, the longest break of any American sports superstar over the last 15 months.
Chiles, who moved from Washington to Biles’ gym in 2019, was runner-up Saturday, three months after winning the other significant competition this year, the Winter Cup.
The 20-year-old considered giving up elite gymnastics during the pandemic. She ultimately deferred UCLA enrollment. Chiles was sixth at 2019 Nationals and has never made a world championships team. Now she’s a bona fide Olympic team contender, if not the favorite to get the second automatic Olympic spot behind Biles.
“She’s a completely different athlete now than when she was in 2018,” Forster said.
Other established gymnasts are coming back from significant injuries or illness suffered over the last year.
Suni Lee, the second-best American behind Biles in 2019, missed about two months in 2020 after breaking a bone in her left foot. Then another two months due to left Achilles problems. She fell off both her best event, uneven bars, and the balance beam on Saturday.
Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion during Biles’ year off, had her fifth and sixth right elbow surgeries in March. She performed on beam and floor, grading it “extremely shaky” and “really not up to my standards,” while knowing the meets that matter are next month.
Laurie Hernandez, the only other active Rio Olympic team member, returned in February after a four-and-a-half-year break from competition. She smacked her ankle on the uneven bars in March and didn’t return to full routines in practice until last week. She did beam (with a fall) and vault on Saturday.
Riley McCusker, a two-time U.S. all-around bronze medalist, withdrew after her first event, vault. She landed, immediately lifted her left foot off the mat and was taken off to the side of the competition floor.
Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympian and 32-year-old mother of two in her first competition in nine years, was the highlight of the early afternoon session. She hit her opening vault, and though she fell off her other event, beam, was thrilled with the comeback.
“You’re seeing how far you can actually take this when people said you should have retired when you were 20 or when you were 24, or you can’t have kids and come back to a sport,” Memmel said on Peacock. “That kind of thinking, I feel, is so backwards, but that’s what we think is true, and it’s not true. For me, I just wanted to put that message out to anybody who thought they missed their chance at something.”
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