For the better part of a minute on Saturday, Simone Biles will be airborne, rotating, or extended on anything but two planted feet as she executes a routine on the uneven bars.
It will help mark her return to elite competition after a two-year break.
The most decorated gymnast in the sport’s history, with 32 Olympic and world medals, competes Saturday night in the U.S. Classic at NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Her Friday warmup session displayed a champion’s cool resolve amid the pressure of high expectations and doubts alike. In 2021 there was talk of the possible end of Biles’ Olympic career.
“It’s really inspiring that she’s able to come back after everything that she’s been through, and I think all of us here look up to her,” said U.S. Olympic gymnast Jade Carey during Friday’s session.
The Chicagoland event won’t singularly affirm that Biles may be on track to compete for the United States in the 2024 Paris Olympics. But it could announce her return to the top echelon of gymnastics en route to the U.S. Championships at the end of the month in San Jose, California.
NBC Sports analyst and three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger relished the promise of Biles’ appearance on Saturday.
“She’s, by most regards, considered the greatest of all time,” he said. “You can love Simone. You can not love Simone. The one thing you can’t deny is that this is fantastic. It’s great for the sport.”
Teammate Sunisa Lee, the reigning Olympic all-around champion, is also returning via the U.S. Classic after a post-Tokyo hiatus from international competition. In spring, Lee said she cut short her second season participating in NCAA gymnastics at Auburn University because she was experiencing kidney issues.
“It doesn’t really look like … she took any time off,” Lee said of Biles on Friday. “She’s just amazing.”
Biles, 26, purposefully put break time between her dramatic Tokyo Olympics experience, when she withdrew from multiple team and individual events to focus on her mental health, and this potential new chapter.
Biles still left Tokyo with a medal, bringing home bronze for balance beam.
A little more than a month later, she gave heartfelt testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her abuse by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
“There’s more to life than gymnastics,” Biles said after her Olympic event withdrawals.
On July 7, 2022, President Joe Biden bestowed upon Biles a Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying, “Today, she adds to her medal count. Thirty-two. I don’t know how we’re going to find room.”
In May, she celebrated her recent civil ceremony with NFL star Jonathan Owens by inviting more than 100 guests to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a ceremony on the sand. Biles was living, but she left the door open for life on the events floor, keeping her drug testing for international competition up to date during those off years — and keeping in shape.
Biles’ coach, Cecile Landi, said the athlete revealed over dinner earlier this year that she was committed to a comeback.
“She told me she really wanted to give herself a chance to do it,” Landi said in a video shared by the Olympic Games’ social media account on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“After her wedding, we saw a shift in her training and commitment to being back,” the coach said.
The gymnast appears to have conquered the bugaboo that took her out of the Olympics, the loathed “twisties” in which competitors lose track of their positions midair, resulting in sometimes abrupt, scary landings, or worse.
Biles posted assurances on her Instagram account last month, saying, “I’m fine. I’m twisting again. No worries. All is good.”
The U.S. Classic will be televised and streamed live at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on CNBC, NBCSports.com/watch, the NBC Sports app and Peacock. NBC News and those broadcast and streaming entities are owned by NBCUniversal.