Copy of 2023-08-06T045151Z_1289063640_RC23I2A3XI67_RTRMADP_3_GYMNASTICS-1691318699428
Simone Biles poses during the awards ceremony after winning the all-around of the Core Hydration Classic at NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, US on Saturday. Image Credit: Reuters

Hoffman Estates, US: Four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles made a triumphant return to gymnastics after a two-year hiatus, dominating the US Classic on Saturday in her first competition since the Tokyo Olympics.

Biles, a 19-time world champion, electrified a sellout crowd in suburban Chicago with a stunning performance, receiving an all-around judges’ total score of 59.100 points.

“It felt really good, especially after everything that has happened over the past year,” said Biles, who was married earlier this year.

“I got back out here and I did what I was training (to do) so I’m very happy with the result.”

Last chance

The meet was the last chance to qualify for the US nationals in three weeks at San Jose, California, and Biles is also hoping to compete for a title in Antwerp in October at the World Championships.

Biles used the US Classic as her comeback meet in 2018 after a lengthy break following her starring role at the 2016 Rio Olympics, which included gold in all-around, vault, floor and team.

While Biles has not announced if she will be making a bid to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics, her superb comeback spectacle at the Classic at age 26 could be a first stride in that direction.

“We’re still in the working steps,” Biles said when asked about the Paris Games. “My main goal was this and then championships and after that we’ll look on to worlds and then we’ll see.

“So far it’s heading in the right direction but I still have to work on myself. I’m still going to do my therapy. I’m going to put myself first.”

Mental health issues

Biles struggled at the Games in Japan in 2021 with mental health issues and the “twisties” — a disorienting feeling while in mid-air that leaves gymnasts at greater injury risk when landing.

She was affected early in the Olympic team competition, pulled out of the all-around plus the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise disciplines before taking bronze on the balance beam.

“I always kind of knew (I’d return) as soon as everything happened in Tokyo,” she said. “This time I’m doing it for me.

“I worked a lot on myself and I believe in myself a little bit more. It’s just coming back out here and starting those first steps again.”

Biles and her issues in Tokyo put a new emphasis on mental health struggles for elite athletes. She still faces them but with cheering supporters yelling for joy at her every routine, she knows she’s not doing so alone.

“Everyone that was cheering — made posters, all of that in the crowd — it just made my heart melt that they still believe in me,” Biles said.

Weekly therapy

“It means the world because after everything that transpired in Tokyo, I worked on myself a lot,” Biles said. “I still do therapy weekly and it has just been so exciting to come out here and have the confidence I had before.

“It means the world because I feel like I lost a part of that sometimes, so to come back out here and do what I did tonight and have that support from the fans and everybody watching, I just couldn’t thank them enough.”

Biles began on the uneven bars, where her strong performance received a score of 14.000 points, third-best overall.

She followed by going first on balance beam and delivering a spectacular 14.800, the meet’s top score.

Biles went last in rotation three on floor exercise and drew cheers during and after every tumbling run, her flips and landings on incredible passes bringing a roar at the finish of an effort that was rewarded with a meet-best 14.900 points.

She finished on vault and unleashed another epic performance, soaring high and landing well — showing no signs of rust from the long layoff in earning a meet-best 15.400 score.

Leanne Wong, 19, finished second, five points off the pace on 54.100, with 17-year-old Joscelyn Roberson third on 54.050.

Biles elected not to perform some riskier moves in her return routines as part of her overall comeback strategy.