COLUMBUS, Ohio – Simone Biles was not perfect. In her first competition in nearly two years, the Olympic champion made mistakes and showed some rust after a year away from gymnastics.
But she’s still Simone Biles, which means a night with uncharacteristic bobbles and a fall still kept her atop the leaderboard.
Biles won the U.S. Classic at the Schottenstein Center on Saturday, scoring a 58.700 in a testament to how much more difficult her routines are than her competition. Even without perfect execution, she posted the highest scores in the world this year on floor (14.750), vault (15.400), balance beam (15.200) and the all-around.
“I think right now we’re at a good place and there’s still a lot to work on – work on the nerves, work on the consistency, work on the landings – but for this point, at this time in the year, I think we’re in a pretty good place,” Biles said.
Biles’ best-of-2018 scores, which are tracked by the gymnastics blog thegymter.net, came despite a step out of bounds on floor, a less-than-clean landing on vault and a fall on bars.
They were enough to keep her ahead of Riley McCusker, who took second with a 57.500, and defending world champion Morgan Hurd, who scored 56.350 to place third.
Halfway through the meet, Biles had racked up the best American scores on floor and vault this quadrennium. The highest score for any gymnast in the world on floor this quad was only .05 higher than Biles, according to thegymter.net.
She stepped out of bounds landing the Moors, a double-twisting double backflip with her body stretched, a skill that’s a significant upgrade to her routine this year.
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On vault, she took a step back landing a Cheng, which requires a round off onto the spring board, half turn onto the table and a front flip with 1.5 twist. It’s most difficult vault anyone attempted Saturday, and it was her second vault that helped her secure Olympic gold in the event in Rio.
Biles fell off of the uneven bars, her least favorite event but said the anger fueled her to finish strong on balance beam.
“She was nervous. She needed to give away all the nerve and learn how to compete again,” said Laurent Landi, who began coaching Biles, along with his wife, Cecile, in October.
“You cannot teach this in the gym. You cannot replicate this. You need to go to the meet and do it in real competition environment and this was the great first step in the right direction for her because of the journey.”
Before her comeback, Biles had already established herself as arguably the greatest gymnast the sport had ever seen.
The last time she entered an all-around competition that she didn’t win was in 2013 at this event. After that, she was dominant for an entire quadrennium. She claimed 14 world championship medals, including three all-around titles.
In Rio, she cemented her legacy, helping the U.S. team easily win gold before claiming the all-around title. She added Olympic gold medals on floor and vault, as well as a bronze on balance beam.
The Tokyo Olympics in two years are the ultimate goal, but the first competition back was a step toward what she wants to do at nationals next month and world championships in October.
“I feel pretty good with where I’m at in this time of the year, and even from Rio I feel like I’ve improved,” Biles said. “So I’m pretty proud of myself at this point.”