COLUMBUS, Ohio – Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles picked up where she left off in her return to competition, winning the U.S. Classic on Saturday night with relative ease following a nearly two-year layoff.
The 21-year-old overcame some early jitters and an uncharacteristic mistake on uneven bars to post an all-around score of 58.700, more than a point ahead of Riley McCusker and more than two points clear of reigning world champion Morgan Hurd.
Biles finished first on floor exercise, vault and balance beam in a performance that showcased the gap between herself and the rest of the world remains very real even in the early stages of a comeback that is just starting to pick up steam.
There were some shaky moments, the biggest coming when she hopped off the uneven bars after losing momentum. The mistake briefly dropped her behind McCusker in the all-around heading into the final rotation. Very briefly.
Her form rock steady on an event that gave most of the field trouble all night, the crowd roared when Biles stuck her dismount. When her score of 15.2 flashed on the scoreboard, the crowd roared its approval.
Biles admitted even she was curious how she’d respond in her return to competition following a 711-day break following her staggering haul in Rio de Janeiro, when she tied an Olympic record by collecting five medals – four of them gold – that cemented her status as one of the best gymnasts ever. All before her 20th birthday.
She spent a year basking in the afterglow, enjoying – but not overindulging in – her newfound fame. She hit all the usual post-Olympic notes, doing some reality TV, publishing a book and traveling. She became more comfortable in her own skin, moved into an apartment and got a boyfriend.
There was never any really set timetable on when she might return, but she took her first tentative steps in her comeback late last summer. Things got serious when she hired Laurent and Cecile Landi as her new coaches last fall, intent not to simply recapture the form that captivated the 2016 Olympics but to push herself and her sport forward.
Things came together quickly. So quickly Biles entered all four events in Columbus and said matter-of-factly on Friday that she believes she’s already ahead of where she was when she dominated in Rio de Janeiro.
Maybe in practice. Not quite yet when the lights are on.
She was so amped during her opening tumbling pass on floor exercise that she stepped out of bounds, earning a slight deduction. She took another step back after landing her vault – though her score of 15.4 still ranks as the best in the world in 2018.
She stressed uneven bars is where she’s made the biggest strides under Landi, hoping to turn her weakest event into a strength. Her right foot caught, however, early in her routine and she hopped down to the mat before receiving a brief pep talk from Landi. She popped back up without and finished strong but her 13.50 put her behind McCusker heading into the final rotation.
Not that it mattered. When Biles drilled her dismount on beam, she gave a brief wave that appeared to show a mixture of exhaustion, joy and relief with her bid to become the first woman in more than 50 years to win consecutive Olympic all-around titles off to a dazzling start.
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