Analysis-Gymnastics-Biles quashes comeback doubts, appears set for third Olympic bid

By Karen Braun

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (Reuters) – Many gymnastics fans were initially unsure of what to expect from Simone Biles’s comeback, especially following her traumatic episode of the “twisties” at the last Olympics.


But the four-times Olympic gold medallist cleared up any confusion this past weekend, proving she is as big a threat as ever one year out from the next Olympics.

The 26-year-old gymnast, who won her first U.S. and World all-around titles in 2013, put on a stunning show in front of a sold-out, suburban Chicago crowd at the Core Hydration U.S. Classic, her first competition since the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.

Biles’s 59.1 all-around total in Saturday’s meeting bested second place by a huge five points, the equivalent of five falls, making her the early all-around favourite for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

But she is not focusing that far ahead, telling reporters after the competition that “living in the moment” has been instrumental in her mental health, which was thrust into the spotlight after she unexpectedly pulled out of the 2020 Tokyo team finals due to the “twisties”, a temporary loss of air awareness.

Biles, whose four Olympic golds came in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, took more than a year off gymnastics after Tokyo before resuming high-level training earlier this year, though she continues to work on her mental health, and the effort has paid off.

“I feel really good about where I am right now, mentally and physically,” she said on Saturday, noting that she felt more prepared for this specific competition than she ever had in past years.

In addition to the all-around, Biles is favoured on the world stage for the vault and floor exercise golds due to her unmatched difficulty. She would, though, be challenged on the balance beam and especially the asymmetric bars, her least favourite event, although her pristine execution can make her a medal threat on any apparatus.

Only one of Biles’s 26 individual Olympic or World medals has come on bars and at least 15 other women in the world have already performed more difficult bar routines than Biles so far this year.


The Chinese are perennial threats on bars and beam, having made a one-two sweep of the beam medals in Tokyo, ahead of Biles’s bronze.

Russia may be in the mix for Paris, as the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said last month that eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes can participate in FIG-sanctioned events from Jan. 1, paving a possible route to Olympic qualification.

Russia has been banned from international competition since the Ukraine invasion in early 2022.

The Russian women, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee due to a doping ban, captured team gold in Tokyo, leaving the United States to settle for silver.

Biles’s departure from the team final was of course pivotal but the Russians had also beaten the Americans in the team qualification round that included Biles, marking the first time in 11 years that the U.S. women’s team had been outscored in major international competition.

Artistic gymnastics teams will expand to five athletes for the Paris Games from Tokyo’s four but making the 2024 U.S. women’s team could be harder than ever given the mountain of accolades already shared among the current athletes.

Contenders could include an unprecedented three Olympic all-around champions as 2012 winner Gabby Douglas, 27, recently announced plans to join Biles and 2020 champion Sunisa Lee, 20, on the road to Paris.

Biles said on Saturday: “You don’t have to peak at 16, your time is still coming.” She credits her physical and mental maturity for her and other older athletes’ continued success in gymnastics, previously stereotyped as being only for teenagers.

The Paris squad will be selected at U.S. team trials at the end of June next year, a month before the 2024 Games.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)