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Simone Biles competing at first World Championships since 2019

The 26-year-old Black Catholic made a record sixth U.S. Worlds team earlier this month, and is already the most decorated athlete in the history of the sport.

Simone Biles practices during podium training on Thursday at the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Following her triumphant return to competition earlier this year and a gold-medal finish at nationals in August, Simone Biles will vie for history at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Belgium next week, ahead of her planned entry into the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The weeklong meet from October 1-8 at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp will be the sixth world championships of Biles' career, the most for any American woman in history. The Black Catholic 26-year-old is already the most decorated gymnast in history, male or female.

"She's super excited," said Biles’ coach Cécile Canqueteau-Landi this week in an interview with after a Thursday practice session. 

"I think this place has a special place in her heart."

Biles first competed on the world stage 10 years ago, also in Antwerp, where she captured her first international medals and began an unprecedented period of dominance in the sport. She has gone on to amass 25 world medals, becoming in 2019 the winningest gymnast in the history of the competition. She also became the winner of the most golds at 19.

She has not competed at Worlds since that year, however, with her appearance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics being her last meet for more than two years. There in Japan, she notably withdrew from most of her events following a mental health scare involving the “twisties”—an acute case of midair disorientation.

She ended her hiatus this summer, however, competing at the 2023 Core Hydration Classic and displaying a marked return to form. She took the all-around gold by a five-point margin and also placed first in the balance beam and floor exercises, before repeating the wins at nationals two months later in San Jose.

Biles qualified for the U.S. Worlds team at the national selection camp earlier this month in her native Texas, setting her up for a showdown with a number of upstart gymnasts from abroad. These include defending world all-around champion Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, who last year became the first South American gymnast to accomplish the feat. Biles will also be up against her countrywomen for the two national spots in the finals for each individual event.

Biles is this year’s favorite to win the all-around, and is expected to debut her signature Yurchenko double pike vault in international competition, a controversially difficult maneuver. Though the move is universally regarded as the most difficult in all of women’s gymnastics, scoring it equitably has been a point of concern, with some judges choosing to score it lower due to its scarce use and incomparability to other competitors’ flips.

As seen throughout her career, however, Biles is happy to be in a class of her own.

“They don’t want the field to be too far apart and that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me,” she said in 2021 before the Tokyo Olympics, where she ultimately chose not to attempt the move in competition.

She will have her first opportunity to pull it off—and have it officially named in her honor—on Sunday, when she and the other American women begin individual qualifying sessions in Belgium. Team qualifying begins on Wednesday, October 4, with the American women heavily favored to win their seventh consecutive world title—an international record. Individual finals will take place the weekend of October 6-8.

Stateside viewers will be able to watch the finals portion of the competition on NBC or via streaming on Peacock. Qualifiers begin on Sunday at 11:45am ET and are expected to stream on AllGymnastics.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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