Gymnastics star Simone Biles set to return to competition

The seven-time Olympic medalist will compete this August at the US Classic tournament after a nearly two-year hiatus.

A woman gymnast does a split flying through mid-air.
Athlete Simone Biles is tied with Shannon Miller as having the most Olympic medals of any female gymnast in the US [File: Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo]

The United States gymnastics phenomenon Simone Biles will compete in an event later this year, marking her first return to competition since the Tokyo Olympics.

In a statement on Wednesday, USA Gymnastics announced that Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist and 2016 Olympic champion, would participate in the US Classic in August after a nearly two-year hiatus.

“Led by a trio of Olympic gold medalists, current athlete registrations for the 2023 US Classic are loaded with Olympians, World Championships team members and international medalists,” the statement reads.

Biles will be joined at the event by another Olympic all-around gold medalist, Sunisa Lee, who won the title for the US at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was held in 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. Biles nabbed the all-around gold in 2016, at the Olympic competition in Rio de Janeiro.

The all-around title is considered one of the most prestigious in gymnastics, as the competition tests an athlete’s skills in multiple areas, through vaults, balance beams, uneven bars and floor routines.

But during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Biles voluntarily removed herself from several events in order to focus on her mental health. She explained she had the “twisties”, a condition where gymnasts lose spacial awareness while conducting complicated jumps.

“I had no idea where I was in the air,” Biles told reporters at the time. “I could have hurt myself.”

Her decision to withdraw from certain events placed attention on the strain facing high-level athletes, though she did ultimately compete on the balance beam, earning a bronze medal. She remains tied with Shannon Miller as the most decorated US woman gymnast at the Olympics.

Biles has since become an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness. She has also taken time to focus on her personal life, marrying National Football League player Jonathan Owens earlier this year.

Along with her advocacy on mental wellness, Biles previously joined dozens of other women who said they were sexually abused by sport doctor Larry Nassar, testifying before a Senate committee in 2021 that athletes had “been failed and we deserve answers”.

Last year, Biles was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US.

The US Classic is one of the best-known events in the calendar of USA Gymnastics and is often seen as a prelude to the national championships, which are scheduled to take place in California in late August.

The US Classic has marked a reintroduction for Biles once before. In 2018, after a two-year hiatus following the Rio Olympics, she used the competition as a springboard for another spectacular run, which included two all-around world championships in 2018 and 2019 and three more national titles.

It is not clear whether Biles plans to participate in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, although she has hinted that she hopes to do so.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press