For the first time since experiencing the “twisties” at the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles is set to make her return to gymnastics competition and she’ll do it all in a Chicago suburb.
It marks a comeback not every gymnast can make.
For years in gymnastics, the phrase “the twisties” was usually uttered in hushed tones, as if saying the slang term for an athlete’s sudden loss of air awareness during a routine would only deepen the problem.
“It’s almost like a mythical kind of thing,” longtime Oklahoma men’s gymnastics coach Mark Williams said. “When someone says ‘the twisties,’ everyone shudders because it’s bad.”
Then Simone Biles said it in front of the whole world two summers ago in Tokyo, after a sudden onset of the mental block early in the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympics forced the sport’s biggest star to pull out of several competitions — including the team and all-around finals — to protect herself.
Biles returned to win bronze on balance beam while doing a slightly altered routine that removed any twisting elements. It was her seventh Olympic medal, and she called the triumph sweet while also admitting the twisties hadn’t really disappeared. She and coach Cecile Landi had just found a way to work around them.
A sellout crowd is expected on Saturday at Hoffman Estates, where spectators will be eager to not only see Biles’ much-anticipated comeback, but also the likes of returning Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee.
Biles is the most decorated gymnast in US history, winning 32 medals across the Olympics and the world championships. Among her medal haul are four golds at the Olympics and 19 golds at the world championships – the most by any gymnast in history.
Although Biles is registered to compete in all four events this weekend, athletes may decide not to compete on an apparatus at any given time.
After a two-year hiatus, Biles is returning to gymnastics as a celebrated advocate for mental health. Even in the months after the Olympics, she said she was still “scared to do gymnastics,” but recently said on Instagram that she is “twisting again. No worries. All is good.”
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. In addition to Biles and Lee, Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles will compete – both were medalists in Tokyo. Kayla DiCello and Skye Blakely, who both medaled at recent World Championships, will also be looking to make their mark and start down the road to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Biles’ return is great news for USA Gymnastics, which announced a new deal with Nike on Thursday – the largest partnership ever for the organization and the first time Nike will be its official apparel and footwear sponsor. The deal marks the end of a several-year period where brands shied away from the sport’s governing body, whose reputation was severely damaged by former team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of gymnasts and the lawsuits that followed.
Biles and the other Olympic and World medalists will compete Saturday evening from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET, broadcast live on CNBC and streamed on Peacock. NBC will air highlights from the competition on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. For those outside the U.S., there will be a livestream on YouTube from USA Gymnastics.
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