Simone Biles returned to gymnastics as if she never left, easily winning in her first meet in two years to set the stage for a possible yearlong run-up to a third Olympics.
Biles had just one significant mistake among four routines at the Core Hydration Classic and won by a massive five points in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
“Everyone that was cheering, made posters and all of that in the crowd, it just made my heart melt that they still believe in me,” she said. “I’m very shocked.”
She extended an unbeaten streak in all-around finals to 10 years and 25 meets. She celebrated with a dance after her closing vault, a Yurchenko double pike, which no other woman has ever landed in competition.
MORE: Meet Results | All Biles Routines
Her total score was 59.1. At last year’s U.S. Championships, the best score between two days of competition was 57.2. Rebeca Andrade of Brazil won last year’s world all-around title with 56.899 points (international judging is typically stricter than domestic).
Biles left out some of her most difficult skills, though she is capable of performing all of them again since amping up training after her May 6 wedding, one of her coaches said. Biles also said she believes she’s in better shape — physically and mentally — than in 2021.
She had the best score on three of the four apparatuses Saturday. She was third on the uneven bars, her first routine, after stalling briefly following a pirouette atop the high bar, which she saved without coming off.
Biles widened her eyes after dismounting, giving off a that-was-close vibe on her longtime nemesis apparatus.
Classic is a stepping-stone meet to the U.S. Championships in three weeks. The five-woman world championships team will be announced after a September selection camp.
“We’re still in the working steps,” Biles said when asked about the 2024 Olympics. “My main goal was this, and then [U.S.] championships, and then after we’ll look onto worlds, and then we’ll see, but so far it’s heading in the right direction.”
Biles’ return to competitive gymnastics was signaled June 28, when her name appeared on the entry list for this meet.
She had not competed since the Tokyo Olympics, where she withdrew from the team final with the twisties and returned to win a balance beam bronze medal. Biles posted on social media on Sunday that she is doing fine twisting again.
“I still get a little bit nervous, but I think it’s just subconscious,” she said Saturday. “Other than that, I know my body is capable, prepared and all of that stuff, so I just have to trust my training.”
She never announced a retirement and stayed in the drug-testing pool, which was telling. Athletes who retire often take their names out of drug testing, but if they want to return, they then must wait six months after they re-enter the pool. Biles, by staying available for drug testing during her absence, didn’t have to serve that waiting period.
Biles returned to training in the gym last September to “get fit again,” ramped up to two-a-days at the start of this year and went “full force” after her wedding.
“I always kind of knew [that I would come back] as soon as everything that happened in Tokyo,” she said, though she added later Saturday, “I feel grateful that I get this opportunity to come back out here and compete in front of a crowd because I truly didn’t believe I’d be back here competing at all.”
Most of the rest of the top Americans competed at Classic, but sat out at least one apparatus.
Suni Lee, the Tokyo Olympic all-around champion, did two events Saturday in her first meet since being diagnosed with two types of kidney diseases and prematurely ending her second and final NCAA season in March.
Jade Carey, the Tokyo Olympic floor exercise gold medalist, did one event — balance beam. Jordan Chiles, an Olympic team silver medalist, did bars and beam.
Shilese Jones, last year’s world all-around silver medalist, did not compete at Classic but is expected at nationals.