SAN JOSE, Calif. — Simone Biles made her triumphant return to national competition over the weekend, competing in the Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships for the first time since 2021, when she dominated just weeks before the Tokyo Olympics.
Her appearance this year was more of the same, featuring a wire-to-wire lead on her way to a record eighth all-around national title—the most for any American gymnast. She also won gold in the balance beam and floor exercises, and a bronze on uneven bars.
Already the most decorated gymnast in world history, Biles had been away from competition for two years after a mental health episode in Tokyo, where she withdrew from most of her events and managed only a team silver and a bronze on the balance beam. During the competition, she experienced a case of the “twisties,” an acute case of mid-air disorientation.
During her resulting hiatus, Biles became a powerful voice for mental health awareness as well as a noted promoter of gymnastics on the junior level, via the World Champions Centre (WCC) facility she and her family founded in her native Texas in 2014. She also became a married woman, wedding her fiancé Jonathan Owens in a private ceremony this spring.
After announcing a return to competition, Biles qualified for the 2023 nationals with a solid performance at the Core Hydration Classic in early August. There, she also won gold in the all-around, balance beam, and floor.
Before a crowd of nearly 12,000 in San Jose, Biles shook off some early nerves on the balance beam before showing herself to be largely in a class of her own. She bested her opponents by several points in virtually all of the events—including a fellow Olympic gold medalist in Sunisa Lee, who competed only on the vault and beam at nationals.
Biles’ strongest events, the vault and floor, were once again her undisputed domain, featuring her characteristically clean routines coupled with high difficulty. During the former event, she displayed a full return to form, leading off on Friday night with her signature Yurchenko double pike. The double-backflip maneuver is understood to be the most difficult in all of women’s gymnastics.
That vault contributed to her highest score for any routine in San Jose, at 15.700 on night one. Only one other competitor, Shilese Jones, scored 15.000 or higher in any one routine; Biles reached the mark twice.
On Sunday, the second and final day of the senior women's competition, Biles kept things simple before laying down an awe-inspiring routine on the floor to close out the night. Her WCC teammate and close friend Jordan Chiles, one of the only competitors to come near her score in the all-around, bowed in mock worship as Biles exited the platform, before encouraging the crowd as they offered Biles a standing ovation.
Though she did not speak to reporters in the media days held immediately before and during nationals, Biles said after the meet that she felt the added energy from her supporters during the two days of competition.
“I love the fans. I love the crowd. It was really special,” she told NBC.
In contrast, Biles recently revealed that prior to her hiatus, she had been the subject of pressure-inducing comments even from within Team USA. She mentioned a possibly racially-charged incident dating back to Tokyo, when she was allegedly referred to by a member of USA Gymnastics’ “inside team” as the nation’s “gold medal token.”
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” Biles said at the time, long before the public knew of the incident.
Now two years later, on Biles’ shoulders are her latest gold medals, perhaps just the beginning of a defiant comeback journey. She now boasts of the most women’s national titles in American history—surpassing a fellow Black Catholic in Dominique Dawes—and is the oldest woman ever to win an all-around U.S. title, besting Linda Metheny-Mulvihill’s feat in 1971.
The 26-year-old legend also seems well on her way to the 2024 Paris Olympics, an event where she would likely be a favorite but to which she has not explicitly committed. She remained coy on details even after her triumph in San Jose.
“Not yet,” she said when asked on Sunday night if she’s ready to announce her participation in the upcoming Games.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.