Simone Biles won four gold medals and a bronze at the 2016 Olympics, solidifying her position as the greatest female gymnast of all time. Those wins came at the end of an Olympic cycle that saw Biles completely dominate the sport by winning three consecutive world all-around titles, four straight national titles, and a bevy of other titles and medals. Not only did Biles win everything, she had her competitors conceding defeat before the competitions even started. You frequently heard talk of how second place was really “first in the non-Simone division.” Her greatness was palpable when she was competing, but it was also palpable when she wasn’t.
All of which is to say that if Biles had decided to call it quits after Rio, it would’ve been, in the words of my people on my least favorite holiday, dayenu. This roughly translates to “it would’ve been enough for us,” and colloquially reads more like “okay, we get it.”
And it should and would have been enough for us. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t enough for Biles. On Saturday in Columbus, Biles returned to competition for the first time since Rio at the GK U.S. Classic. This competition, the final qualifier for the national championships next month, used to be called the Secret Classic in previous years. But all of USA Gymnastics’ major corporate sponsors—P&G, Hershey’s, Under Armour—dropped the nonprofit as a result of public outcry over its handling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. GK, an apparel brand that makes leotards and furnishes the national team, was basically all that was left. So the GK Classic it is.
Of course everyone expected Biles to win in her first outing since Rio. She is, after all, Simone Biles, which means that everyone else is still not Simone Biles. But her return to form is all the more impressive when you consider just how recently she resumed full-time training, which was just in November.
Biles isn’t back at her Rio level of skill, which would’ve been more than enough to win in Columbus. She is, somehow, better. Biles has introduced significant upgrades on two of the four events, and her four-pass floor routine now features a dizzying array of insane tumbling—a double twisting double layout in the opening spot, a full twisting front somersault through to a full twisting double back, the move now just known as The Biles, and a tucked double twisting double back as a final run. It is the most ambitious tumbling program being attempted by a female gymnast in 2018.
Though she beat silver medalist Riley McCusker by more than a point, Biles certainly wasn’t faultless. She bounded out of bounds on her opening pass on floor, on the double twisting double layout she was competing for the first time. On vault, she couldn’t contain her power and took a massive step back on her landing. And in the third rotation, on the other event where she’s made significant upgrades in difficulty, she fell off the bars. After that botched routine, Biles slipped into second place behind McCusker by about four tenths of a point.
Not that anyone was truly worried that Biles would lose her first all-around competition in five years. She has found herself in second place before, but only momentarily. Back during the all-around at the Olympics, she actually headed into the third event, the balance beam, a sliver of a point behind Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. We all know how that ended.
From bars, Biles went to beam, where she had struggled in the training sessions leading up to the competition. Then, because she is Simone Biles, she posted the highest beam score in the world this year.
That beam score is not the only “best in the world this year” mark that Biles posted in return to competition. She won the all-around with a 58.7, which is the highest all-around score recorded at any competition in the world this year by a point. It is also the highest all-around mark of the new quad by .234. Her all-around score in Columbus would’ve been even higher had it not been for that uncharacteristic fall and other mistakes.
It is safe to say that Biles is not only back, but assured to be dominant once again.