Sports

Simone Biles headlines US women's gymnastics team eyeing redemption at the Paris Olympics

At age 27, Biles is the oldest American woman to make an Olympic gymnastics team since the 1950s.
US Trials Gymnastics
Posted at 7:49 AM, Jul 01, 2024

They all had a reason to come back. Every single one of them.

Simone Biles to move past those wrenching two weeks in Japan three years ago, when the gymnastics superstar prioritized her mental health and safety over glory, a decision that inspired some and maddened others.

Suni Lee to prove — perhaps to herself most of all — that the all-around gold medal she earned while Biles watched from the stands wasn't a fluke.

Jordan Chiles to turn the team silver she helped secure at the 2020 Games into gold.

Jade Carey to be an official member of the five-woman Olympic squad after earning her way to Tokyo as an individual qualifier, a pathway not available to the U.S. this time around and frankly, one she had no interest in exploring again anyway.

They're all stepping back into the unique spotlight — oh, and 16-year-old newcomer Hezly Rivera, too — only the sport's biggest stage can provide.

Their reasons are deeply personal. Their motivation, however, is not.

“This is definitely our redemption tour,” Biles said after sewing up a third trip to the Olympics by winning the U.S. trials on Sunday night. “I feel like we all have more to give.”

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Perhaps no one more than Biles, who at 27 is the oldest American woman to make an Olympic gymnastics team since the 1950s. She never expected to still be doing this nearly a decade after becoming a crossover sensation at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

And here she is. Still working. Still pushing. Not to shut up the critics who still flood her mentions on social media wondering if she'll “quit” again, but because she remains determined to extract everything she can out of her remarkable talent.

“Nobody’s forcing me to do it,” said Biles, who posted a two-day total of 117.225 to claim the all-around by nearly six points over Lee. “I wake up every day and choose to grind in the gym and come out here and perform for myself. Just to remind myself that I can still do it.”

And do it at a level that no one else in her sport — and when she's at her best, maybe sports in general — can match.

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A trip to France has never really been in doubt since Biles returned from a two-year break last summer. All she's done over the last 12 months is win a sixth world all-around title and capture her eighth and ninth national championships — both records — while doing the hardest gymnastics of her life.

She will be a prohibitive favorite when she steps onto the Bercy Arena floor though there is plenty to work on before women's qualifying on July 28. Yet there are things to clean up over the next four weeks.

Biles backpedaled after landing her Yurchenko double pike vault, a testament to both the vault's difficulty and the immense power she generates during a skill few male gymnasts try and even fewer land as cleanly.

She hopped off the beam after failing to land her side aerial, though she wasn't quite as frustrated as she was during a sloppy performance on Friday that left her uttering an expletive for all the world to see.

Biles finished with a flourish on floor exercise, her signature event. Though there was a small step out of bounds, there was also the unmatched world-class tumbling that recently drew a shoutout from pop star Taylor Swift, whose song “Ready For It” opens Biles' routine.

She stepped off the podium to a standing ovation, then sat down atop the steps to take in the moment in what could be her last competitive round on American soil for quite a while. Maybe ever.

Biles sidestepped questions about what lies ahead. That can wait. It's been a long, winding road back to this moment. She's intent on trying to enjoy it even while being part of a team that will have “a lot of weight on our shoulders.”

She believes she and her teammates are in a better position to handle it.

“It's really nice that Tokyo gave us that opportunity to open up that stage for that talk," Biles said. “And so I think now athletes are a little bit more in tune and we just trust what our gut is saying.”

And Biles’ gut told her that if she wanted to come back, she needed to do it on her terms. That meant taking intentional steps to make sure her life is no longer defined by her gymnastics.

She married Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens in the spring of 2023 and the two are building a house in the northern Houston suburbs they hope to move into shortly after Biles returns from Paris.

Biles heads to France as perhaps the face of the U.S. Olympic movement, though she's well aware that more than a few of the millions that will tune in to watch next month will be checking to see if the demons that derailed her in Tokyo resurface.

And while there are still moments of anxiety — including at last year's world championships — she has put safeguards in place to protect herself. She meets with a therapist weekly, even during competition season, something she didn't do in preparation for the 2020 Games.