Simone Biles, twisting again, and Suni Lee, after life-changing diagnosis, return to gymnastics
To take a line from another iconic comeback, 24 months have passed since Simone Biles last performed in competition. There may be many interesting peripheral aspects to both her departure and return, but at the heart of it is simply this: the best in the world is back.
Biles competes for the first time since the Tokyo Games at the Core Hydration Classic on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, live on CNBC, NBCSports.com/watch, the NBC Sports app and Peacock. Those platforms also air the earlier senior women’s session at 2 p.m. NBC airs highlights Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Suni Lee also returns to the elite level for the first time since Tokyo, though she competed collegiately for Auburn the past two winters.
It will be the first time that two Olympic all-around gold medalists are in the same domestic competition, though Lee, who is training through kidney issues, is expected to sit out one or two apparatuses on Saturday.
They will compete in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago.
"[Biles’] return means to gymnastics more than Michael’s [Jordan] return meant to the NBA,” said John Roethlisberger, an NBC Sports analyst and three-time Olympian. “She’s, by most regards, considered the greatest of all time. You can love Simone. You can not love Simone. The one thing you can’t deny is that this is fantastic. It’s great for the sport.”
Biles’ comeback was signaled on June 28. Her name appeared on the entry list for Classic, which is the primary tune-up meet for the U.S. Championships, which are in three weeks.
Biles has since commented on her return on social media. On Sunday, she posted that twisting on every event was the hardest part of coming back.
Biles withdrew during the Tokyo Olympic team final with “the twisties,” a term for getting lost in the air and making it dangerous to perform high-level skills.
“When the twisties happen, you go right into the gym & work on it,” Biles wrote Sunday. “I took over a year off and THEN came back... So I was petrified.
“But I’m fine. I’m twisting again. No worries. All is good.”
While Biles’ return to the gym was seismic, it wasn’t shocking. She stayed in the drug-testing pool after Tokyo, even when she had no immediate plans to compete, so that if and when she did decide to return, she would not have to wait six months, which is the rule for athletes who withdraw from and then return to the pool.
In July, Biles participated in a USA Gymnastics training camp in her native Texas, posting the highest all-around score by 3.5 points, according to the Gymternet.
“If her verification scores from last camp are any indication of how well she does, she’s going to be a shoo-in,” for the five-woman team for this autumn’s world championships, said Sam Peszek, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist and NBC Sports analyst.
Biles has not said if she plans to compete at nationals or, if invited, a September selection camp for the world team, much less whether she’s committed to a 2024 Olympic bid.
Lee announced last November that she’s making an Olympic run. In February, she believed she was in the best shape of her gymnastics career. Then the kidney problems came, forcing her to prematurely end her second and final NCAA season in March.
Lee has been in and out of the gym since amid doctors appointments and adapting to medication. She has woken up with her hands so swollen that her fingers didn’t fit in her uneven bars grips.
“I’m not even probably supposed to be doing gymnastics,” yet, she said.
Lee, like many, is focused not so much on Saturday as she is on nationals and beyond.
“I don’t necessarily gauge how well an athlete is doing at Classics,” said Laurie Hernandez, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist and NBC Sports analyst. “I think we’ll be able to tell more so at championships and at worlds this year, especially considering that it’s a year before the Games, but Classics is typically a place where we get a little bit more leeway, and we get to either try new skills, or we get to test out being in a pressure situation.”