Hoffman Estates (Illinois): Simone Biles made a triumphant return to gymnastics on Saturday in suburban Chicago, eclipsing the field by an enormous margin in her first competitive event since the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist dazzled fans with her sky-high tumbling and a double-flipping vault so difficult that it has never been performed by another female gymnast.
The sold-out crowd, including many young, hopeful gymnasts, erupted in deafening cheers every time Biles took the podium, and those did not go unnoticed by the 26-year-old.
"It just makes my heart warm because it's nice to come out here and have all that support, especially in a time like this where I was really nervous to compete again," Biles told reporters after the competition.
The "twisties," which cut short Biles' Tokyo run, were nowhere in sight on Saturday as the US gymnast appeared back to her previous, top-notch form after taking more than a year off from the sport.
During that break she prioritised her mental health, which became a major focus following her abrupt withdrawal from the team finals in Tokyo. "I’m still continuing to work on myself and go to therapy," Biles said, stressing the importance of a mental break.
That effort seemed to have proven worthwhile. "I think I’m in better shape than I was in 2021," she said. "I think that goes mentally and physically."
Biles returned to high-level training this year, announcing in late June she would join the talent-packed roster at Saturday's Core Hydration US Classic, just one year out from the 2024 Paris Olympics.
But she said she was taking things one step at a time, the next goal being national championships at the end of this month.
"Who knows, I'm not going to think too far ahead," Biles said when asked about her plans. "Right now I think I should just embrace what happened today (and) be happy."