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Shilese Jones backs up dream year at world gymnastics championships

Jones back at home to finish what she's started
Shilese Jones' dream of going to the Olympics began at a young age, and after recovering from a car accident in 2021, she has made the return home to finish what she's started in her pursuit of her dream.

ANTWERP, Belgium — With every passing competition, Shilese Jones appears to be moving closer to the goal she set after placing 10th at the Tokyo Olympic Trials.

Make the 2024 Olympic team.

At this week’s world championships, Jones had the second-highest all-around qualifying score, plus advanced to eight-woman finals on balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars. She is the first American woman other than Biles to make four individual finals at an Olympics or worlds since Kyla Ross at this venue in 2013.

Everyone restarts from zero later this week with medals at stake, but Jones’ impression has been enduring.

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She nearly quit elite gymnastics after trials two years ago. In the last 17 months, she hasn’t finished lower than second in her six all-around competitions.

That includes two U.S. Championships, two U.S. selection meets for world teams and last year’s worlds, where she took silver behind Rebeca Andrade of Brazil in her global championship debut.

Now consider that Jones extended that momentum this year — placing second to the comebacking Simone Biles at nationals and the selection meet — upon returning from a torn labrum in her shoulder from February and a bothersome ankle.

“I’m a fighter,” she said.

Consider 2021.

That January, Jones fractured her back and a foot after she said another car hit her head-on while going around a traffic circle. She needed a three-to-four-month recovery to return for June’s nationals (12th place) and Olympic Trials (10th).

USA Gymnastics sent the top nine women to Tokyo -- five team members and four alternates. Jones was the highest finisher to be left home.

Then that December, Jones’ father, Sylvester, died after a long kidney disease battle.

Jones wrote that it was her dad’s “dream to see me on the Olympic stage. ... Beat tired after a long day of dialysis to drive and pick me up from practices. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to support my gymnastics.”

Consider 2022.

Jones and her family moved from Ohio back to her home state of Washington, at least in part to be closer to extended family. At that August’s nationals, she wore a leotard with Roman numerals marking the date of her father’s death.

On the first night of those nationals, she said she had the best performance of her career. Jones ultimately finished runner-up to Konnor McClain following day two.

After McClain was sidelined by injury, Jones won the world championships team selection meet to go into her first worlds as the top U.S. all-arounder. After team gold, she delivered world all-around silver, extending the U.S. streak to 20 consecutive Olympics or worlds with a woman on that podium.

Jones was the only top woman to not compete at all in 2023 before August’s U.S. Championships. Yet she bettered her nationals scores from 2022, upgrading her difficulty on balance beam and floor. She again was all-around runner-up (to Biles this time).

Then at September’s world trials, it looked like Jones was going to beat Biles.

She would have if she repeated either of her bars scores from nationals on her closing routine, but in a fluke occurrence, her feet hit the mat during her set, costing her more than a point and the title.

No matter, Jones returned to worlds this week and in qualifying scored 1.166 points higher than in the same round a year ago. She and Biles can give the U.S. a one-two all-around finish for the first time since Biles and Gabby Douglas in 2015.

Of Biles’ return, Jones said at nationals, “No matter who comes back, my goals are still the same.”

Last year, she called making her first world team “a dream.” She earned one gold and two silver medals.

By reaching four individual finals this week, she made good on a recent reflection on 2022.

“That wasn’t my ending,” she said.