Biles makes history in return to competition at U.S. Classic

By Will Graves
Associated Press

Simone Biles and her ever-expanding array of signature skills sure look ready for the Tokyo Olympics.

The reigning world and Olympic champion returned to competition for the first time in more than 18 months by cruising to victory at the U.S. Classic in Indianapolis on Saturday night.

Simone Biles performs during the vault at the U.S. Classic gymnastics meet in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 22, 2021.

The 24-year-old continued her quest to push the boundaries of what's possible by a female gymnast in the process.

Biles' all-around score of 58.400 — easily the best of the night in a crowded field of seniors trying to join Biles on the U.S. Olympic team this summer — was almost beside the point.

The Yurchenko double pike vault has historically only been done by men. Not anymore. Biles sprinted down the runway, did a roundoff onto the springboard followed by a back handspring onto the vault, finishing with two backflips with her legs ramrod straight and her hands seemingly magnetized to her hamstrings. Biles had so much momentum when she landed that she hopped back a step or two.

No matter. Her score of 16.100 was higher than either of her gold medal-winning vaults at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And that was with the judges dinging her for the extra steps.

The rest of her night was steady, if not spectacular. She sailed off the uneven bars on her final event on an element that she has struggled with in practice. The miscue was merely a speedbump on a night when she showcased what separates her from every other gymnast in the sport's long history.

Wearing a white leotard with a rhinestone goat — a nod to her status as the Greatest of All-Time — on the back, Biles posted the highest scores of the night on balance beam, floor exercise and vault.

So much for being rusty after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Olympics back a year.

The miscue on bars will give Biles something to focus on before the national championships in Fort Worth, Texas, next month.

Behind her, however, the picture for who will join her in Japan in July remains unclear.

Jordan Chiles, a friend and teammate of Biles, is moving closer to being a favorite for one of the remaining spots available. The 20-year-old proved her victory in the Winter Cup in February was no fluke. Chiles finished second in the all-around (57.100) to Biles and ranked in the top four in each of the four events.

Kayla DiCello came in third, buoyed by a victory on bars.

Chellsie Memmel clenched her fists in joy after landing her vault in her first competitive meet in more than nine years. The 2005 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist's score of 13.750 didn't matter. Neither did a nervous beam routine that finished with an 11.800. Saturday was about simply arriving at the moment itself.

“I was just overwhelmingly happy that it went OK today,” Memmel said. “Obviously, beam I would have to have it gone better, but I’m still happy with everything that I did and happy that I was out on the floor, that I put myself out there to even get to this point, to try this again, to, you know, to put on a and to register for a competition.”

Memmel is petitioning for a spot in next month's national championships, one that women's national team coordinator Tom Forster said will be accepted.

Two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez fell off beam — the event she won silver on in Rio de Janeiro — and scored just 13.250 on vault. Hernandez competed on a tender ankle after suffering an injury in training last month that limited her preparation. Like Memmel, Hernandez is petitioning for a bid to nationals.

That hasn't been an issue for Biles since she won the first of her six national titles in 2013. She's poised to collect a seventh in two weeks, the next step of what will likely be a gold medal-laden farewell (for now at least) tour.