Simone Biles enters the US Championships again with a different level of difficulty

Before Simone Biles began the first practice of her expected return this month, the moment mattered: The biggest star in gymnastics had decided to return to competition after a two-year hiatus following deep public disappointment at the Tokyo Olympics. As the US Classic drew to a close and Biles won comfortably, her status as the world’s most dominant gymnast seemed restored and secured.

As Biles prepares for this weekend’s US Championships in San Jose, where she could win her eighth national all-around title, her competitions to date have mirrored past performances. She won by a five-point margin – a huge margin in a sport where athletes sometimes differ by thousandths of a point. She attempted skills so difficult that she had a significant edge over her competitors before anyone performed them. And she executed them so well, she didn’t need that pillow. Biles looked similar to Biles in the past when she debuted in 2023, and she followed a script comparable to that which led to 23 gold medals at Olympics and World Championships combined.

Biles’ five-point win over all-around runner-up Leanne Wong this month was the largest single-day margin in her elite senior-level career that began in 2013. However, many of America’s top competitors did not perform on all four apparatus, a relatively common occurrence at this event, held just weeks before the national championships. This weekend’s competition provides a better look at how far Biles is above the US field, which also includes 2022 World Championships All-Around Silver medalist Shilese Jones, reigning Olympic All-Around Gold medalist Sunisa Lee and Olympian Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey, although owned by Lee, will only compete on vault and beam.

Following her US Classic win, Biles initially wanted to savor the achievement of returning to competition, but added, “I’m in a really good position.”

Biles already appears poised to compete as an all-around gold medal favorite at the fall World Championships and eventually the Paris Olympics. Brazilian Rebeca Andrade won the 2022 title with a score of 56.899. Scoring at major global competitions is generally more rigorous than domestic competitions, but Biles’ debut in 2023 earned a score of 59,100, suggesting she still has a wide lead. Biles’ overall difficulty score at the US Classic (25.7) also far surpassed Andrade’s (23.9) at last year’s World Championships.

Only Russia’s Viktoria Listunova (58,532) and Angelina Melnikova (58,166) have achieved all-around results this year somewhat close to Biles’ recent mark, according to Gymternet data, and Russian athletes are banned from international gymnastics competitions until early 2024. making their participation in the Olympics uncertain.

During Biles’ dominance career, she has won every all-around competition she has competed in since August 2013. Twice during the two-day competitions, another gymnast achieved a higher daily mark – Kyla Ross on the second day of the 2013 National Championships, the competition that started this winning streak. and Lee on day two of the 2021 Olympic Trials – but Biles prevailed with their two-day total.

For years, Biles has been challenging the limits of what is possible in the sport. She often seems to exist on a plane of her own, so the most relevant comparisons are between her current form and her former self.

After the US Classic, Biles said she told her coach, “I think I’m in better shape than I was in 2021,” referring to her physical and mental condition.

Biles’ routines are still fraught with difficulties. She tweaked the composition a bit, but on her return she performed the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics, the Yurchenko double-pike. The code of points that assigns difficulty values ​​to each element is adjusted in each Olympic cycle, and gymnasts strategically design exercises that work best with these rules. Because of these changes, the combined difficulty scores aren’t perfectly comparable over time, but Biles’ 25.7 that month was nearly the same as the 25.8 she achieved on the first day of the Olympic Trials in 2021. And their routines seem well constructed: they have these high difficulty values, but mostly involve skills that Biles can consistently perform without much risk of serious mistakes.

Biles coach Cecile Landi said Biles could do anything she could ahead of the Tokyo games. Most notably, Biles seemed to have no problem twisting elements, which upset her at the Olympics, though she admitted to getting “a little nervous.”

Biles added, “I think it’s just subconscious, but otherwise I know my body is capable of it.”

Here’s how Biles’ routines at the US Classic compare to her past performances:

Biles performed her Yurchenko Double Pike for only the second time in competition and it was excellent. This jump begins with a common entry — a takeoff onto the springboard and a hand jump backward onto the vault — and is punctuated by what comes next: two somersaults in a pike position. Biles sidestepped and the most significant deduction was her coach standing on the mat for safety, which is not allowed and costs five tenths of a point. (Biles’ trainer Laurent Landi told the GymCastic podcast that he made the decision and will continue to be a spotter.) If Biles pulls that jump at the Worlds, she would be the first woman to do it, and you will too gave her a name.

Previously, Biles’ main jump was a cheng, which features a front build with a 1½ turn after rounding onto the springboard and then a half turn when jumping onto the vaulting table. Biles can add an extra half twist to this jump — a variation of the double spin that’s named after her — but she hasn’t managed to do that in a competition since 2018.

The other jump that Biles regularly performed in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics was a two-and-a-half twist Yurchenko, which, unlike the double dive, requires only one jump after her hands leave the apparatus. Biles has operated this vault known as Amanar for more than a decade.

To win individual medals, gymnasts must perform two vaults from different groups based on entry. Biles could go for the Yurchenko double pike and the cheng, for example, but her preference is unclear given she only made one jump at the US Classic.

Due to a rule change, Biles had to restructure her routine on the high bar: gymnasts no longer receive points for multiple elements in the Tkatchev style (a skill in which a gymnast lets go as she approaches vertical, rotates, and then re-grasps the bar). the same circling element (for Biles, a swing in a stretched position). Biles has used this skill twice before, once in straddle and again in pike.

Aside from the removal of one of those posts, Biles’ routine is similar to the past. Her new routine is also efficient, with an extended series of five connected elements to start with (previously she had two sets of three connected elements) and a transition to high bar just before her descent.

At the US Classic, Biles performed a simpler dismount—a full twist double tuck instead of a double twist double tuck—but coupled it with a high bar pirouette element. This penultimate skill — when she twirls her toes on the bar and then fires into a full pirouette to a handstand — was the source of her most visible flaw. She had to arch her back to keep from falling off the handstand the wrong way.

Biles didn’t perform her double twist double tuck beam dismount, but she’s only done so a handful of times in competitions. Cecile Landi described this as a strategic decision. The increased difficulty value often does not outweigh the possible penalties when landing. So Biles performed a full twist double tuck at the US Classic, as she had done many times in the past. It’s still such a difficult element that not many gymnasts in the world can do it.

Much of Biles’ beam routine is identical to what she did in 2021. The most notable change is her series of two jumps into a back-pike somersault; She now mounts the apparatus with the first jump and continues the series. Biles also removed a number of connected jumps; There are now stricter requirements on how to jump from the sideways position.

Landi said the philosophy behind developing Biles’ jet exercise was, “Do what you have to do and get out.”

Biles’ floor exercises saw the most changes. Only one tumbling pass — a half-twist back-double layout named after Biles that usually pairs it with a jump — remained the same.

The rest of the passes are different, but still difficult. Instead of starting with a triple twist double tuck, another element named after her, she opted for a full twist double layout, which has a lower difficulty value but is a consistent option for Biles.

Biles improved her combination pass, which was previously a full twist front layout coupled with a round rear handspring and full twist double bend. She added a twist to the final element and now finished the pass with a double twist double tuck, which would be the most difficult exercise for many gymnasts, even if the front isn’t full to begin with.

Biles used to finish with a double twist double tuck, but she can’t repeat the element, so now she finishes with a back double layout, a skill that hasn’t been part of her routine since 2014.

With those passes, Biles is ready to take on the world’s toughest floor exercise. Perhaps most impressively, she pushed the envelope in the US Classic with controlled landings, often making mistakes as her tumble explodes with so much excess power. Simone Biles enters the US Championships again with a different level of difficulty

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