Simone Biles is back.
The gymnastics superstar plans to return to competition at the U.S. Classic outside Chicago in early August, her first event since the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday that Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist and the 2016 Olympic champion, is part of the women’s field for the single-day event set for Aug. 5 at NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates.
Biles has taken most of the last two years off following her eventful stay in Japan in the summer of 2021, where her decision to remove herself from multiple events to focus on her mental health shifted the focus from the games themselves to the overall wellness of the athletes.
She served as a cheerleader as her American teammates won the team silver then sat out the all-around, vault and floor exercise finals she had qualified for while dealing with what is known as “the twisties” — a gymnastics term for when an athlete loses their spatial awareness when airborne.
Biles returned for the balance beam final, where she won a bronze medal that tied Shannon Miller’s record for most Olympic medals by an American female gymnast. She hinted at the Paris 2024 Olympics but only after taking a lengthy break.
The last two years have been a whirlwind of sorts. She headlined her post-Olympic tour in the fall of 2021 and married NFL player Jonathan Owens — now a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers — this spring.
The 26-year-old Biles has also become one of the most vocal advocates for athletes finding space to protect their mental health after her stand in Japan put the issue front and center. While the conversation around the subject is constantly evolving, Biles’ return to the sport she dominated for nearly a decade suggests an athlete who wants to go out on her own terms.
The U.S. Classic is one of the marquee events on USA Gymnastics’ annual calendar and typically serves as a warm-up of sorts for the national championships, this year scheduled for late August in San Jose.
Biles used the Classic as her comeback meet in 2018 following a two-year hiatus after her record medals haul in Rio de Janeiro. It took her all of two hours to show she remained the gold standard in her sport, setting the stage for another spectacular run that included two more world all-around championships in 2018 and 2019 and three more national titles.
Things could be different this time around, in more ways than one.
Biles courted the spotlight during her run-up to Tokyo, becoming in many ways the face of the U.S. Olympic movement. She appears to be taking a more subdued approach with the Paris Games about a year away. She’s kept her various social media channels almost entirely gymnastics-free, instead using them to highlight snippets of her personal life.
And for the first time since rising to stardom as a teenager in 2013, Biles won’t have to shoulder the burden of being the standard bearer for the U.S. program.
Sunisa Lee, who won gold in the all-around final in Tokyo, will also be at the U.S. Classic after spending two years competing at Auburn, where she helped spearhead a massive uptick in interest in collegiate gymnastics.
Lee missed the second half of her sophomore year with the Tigers while grappling with health issues but is eyeing a return to the Olympics not necessarily to defend her all-around title but to take another shot at gold on uneven bars, her signature event.
Lee placed third on bars in Tokyo, due in no small part to the attention she received in the immediate aftermath of becoming the fifth straight American woman to win the Olympic title.
Biles became adept at navigating the various demands of her time as her stardom rose. She appears to be plotting a more subdued path as she tries to make a third Olympic team, a rarity for an American female gymnast. Dominique Dawes (1992, 1996 and 2000) is the only U.S. woman in the last 50 years to be selected for three Olympic teams.
Then again, Biles is also competing at a time when it is becoming more commonplace for elite gymnasts to compete well into their 20s and beyond.
The easing of name, image and likeness rules at the NCAA level have allowed Lee and several other top Americans like Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles and Leanne Wong to not be forced to choose between competing collegiately and cashing in on their Olympic success.
Carey, the 2020 Olympic champion on floor exercise and the 2022 world champion on vault, has spent the last two years at Oregon State. Chiles, who won a team silver in Tokyo and added three medals — including silvers on floor and vault — at the world championships last fall, has thrived at UCLA. Wong, the 2021 world championship silver medalist, has helped Florida reach the national finals each of the last two years.
They will all arrive in Chicago sharpened by having competed regularly since Tokyo.
Biles, by contrast, is in a different place. She’s maintained since she left Japan that she wouldn’t rush into any decision attempting to make a run at Paris, stressing all along that she would only return to the sport she dominated for so long because she wants to and not out of a sense of duty.
Registering for the Classic is but one step in several that she’ll need to make over the next 14 months. The key for her will be to find the right balance that she mastered while experiencing the kind of crossover success reserved for select few Olympic champions.