By Connor Yahn
Simone Biles is back and possibly, better than ever.
The five-time Olympic medalist will be competing for the first time this weekend since her historic performance in Rio, and after a nearly two-year hiatus – spending time writing a book, traveling on vacations and competing on “Dancing with the Stars” – the highly anticipated wait for her return is finally over.
Biles is in Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the GK U.S. Classic on Saturday attempting to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, and although she has been away from competition for two years, Biles says she feels better than she ever has about her all-around abilities.
After her training session on Friday, Biles replied confidently when asked how she compared to her 2016 self.
“I would probably beat her,” Biles said.
If Biles had one weak spot in Rio, it would have been the uneven bars, but she resumed training for this comeback last August with new coach Laurent Landi, who she claims has helped her with that event.
“I’m really excited to showcase bars because it was one of my weaker events, out of all four of them, but I think we’ve made a lot of improvements on bars over the past couple of months,” Biles said. “I don’t want to chainsaw every bar in the country anymore.”
During her training session, Biles unveiled a double-double dismount on her uneven bars routine, and she showed off an impressive floor routine that includes a few upgrades from her routine in Rio.
After five long years of intense elite training during the Rio quadrennium – which included 14 World and Olympic gold medals – Biles took a well-deserved break from the sport that endeared her to so many fans in Rio.
While Biles could have taken off more time before returning to competitive gymnastics to rest and enjoy her newfound fame, she said she felt the time was right resume training and competing again in the sport she loves.
“After the year off,” Biles said, “you kind of just buckle down and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to start training this and this because of what I wanted to do.'”
Initially, Biles was planning only on competing on bars and beam this weekend, but her training moved along ahead of schedule, so fans will get to see her compete in the all-around.
While she admits some nerves are present coming back from the long layoff, Biles’ emotions are filled more with excitement in advance of Saturday’s competition. While she exudes confidence in herself and her abilities, she also has tempered expectations for herself because she understands this is her first competition in nearly two years.
“It’s for me to come back and have fun and really enjoy the sport and not set so many expectations for myself because I’ve met a lot of those in the last quad,” Biles said. “So now it’s just really fun.”
External expectations for Biles will certainly be high – she has won every all-around competition she has entered since 2013–but she says she is focusing on improving and competing again, rather than placement at this stage of her comeback and career.
“I know it’s my first time out here again in over two years, so just go out there and lay it all on the table,” Biles said.
Biles has returned to gymnastics with less pressure on her shoulders than what followed her to Rio. She has already accomplished so much in her career and as an Olympian. She enters the GK U.S. Classic with a different perspective than she has in her previous seven appearances. After taking time off to recharge, Biles said she feels good to be back.
“I feel like I’m in a better place, and I trust my body more,” Biles said. “I trust my gymnastics more, so overall I’m in a better place.”