Simone Biles, the most decorated U.S. gymnast, competed in July for the first time in 712 days. Despite a fall, she won the meet with an all-around score of 58.700, the highest logged by any woman in the world since – unsurprisingly – Biles at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
That’s how dominant she is in the sport.
It would be understandable if Biles had retired after those Games. Elite gymnastics can look deceivingly effortless, but it is a physically and mentally gruelling sport. And then, in January, Biles said that she, too, was among the women who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the former U.S. national team doctor. (Two more Olympic gold medalists, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian, came forward as victims on Thursday.)
Instead, Biles is seeking to become a five-time all-around national champion and, possibly, the first Olympian to repeat in the women’s all-around since the Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska in 1968.
“I can’t carry the whole gymnastics world on me,” Biles said on Wednesday as she prepared for the U.S. gymnastics championship, which run through on Sunday in Boston. “But I guess it’s kind of exciting I can bring some happiness back to the sport.”
Two years away from the Tokyo Games, Biles has added even more difficulty to her nearly impossible routines. Here’s a look at how Biles, a 21-year-old Texan, is expected to impress spectators and judges at the competition this weekend.
At the U.S. Classic in July, her first competition since the Olympics, Biles opted to perform a difficult vault called a Cheng. It is a round-off followed by a half-turn onto the table and 1½ twists off it, and it earns more points than the better-known Amanar.
Biles returns to the uneven bars with a harder dismount – a dizzying two flips and two twists in the tucked position that are unbelievably high. Biles had been expected to upgrade her routine this year since she is now training with Laurent and Cecile Landi, the husband and wife who coached Kocian to an Olympic silver medal on bars.
A skill, called a wolf turn, makes gymnastics fans groan because it seems that almost every athlete relies on it to rack up points, regardless of how wonky it can look. Wolf turns are also less risky than traditional pirouettes because the body’s center of gravity is lower, making it easier to stay on the beam. Biles can spin three times with speed and precision (that’s an extra half-turn than she had in Rio).
Biles is casually adding one of the hardest skills in women’s gymnastics: a Moors, which is two flips and two twists in a layout position. The tumbling pass helps make her new routine the toughest in the world.
Biles should finish her floor exercise this weekend with a double-twisting, double back flip, which many gymnasts cannot even muster at the start of a routine.