Simone Biles qualifies for 2024 Olympics, wins US trials

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — They all had a reason to come back. Every single one of them.

Motivating Simone Biles to move on from the harrowing two weeks she spent in Japan three years ago, when the gymnastics superstar prioritised her mental health and safety over fame, a decision that inspired some and upset others.

Suni Lee had to prove — perhaps most of all to herself — that the gold medal she won while Biles watched from the stands was no fluke.

The team includes Jordan Chiles, who helped them win a silver medal at the 2020 Games, which they converted into a gold medal.

Jade Carey is an official member of the five-woman Olympic team after she booked a spot for Tokyo as an individual qualifier, but that route isn't available to the US this time around and, frankly, they have no interest in revisiting it.

They’re all returning under the unique spotlight — oh, and 16-year-old newcomer Hazely Rivera, too — that only the sport’s biggest stage can provide.

His reasons are very personal. His motivation, however, is not.

“This is definitely our redemption journey,” Biles said Sunday night after winning the U.S. trials and heading to the Olympics for the third time. “I think we all have so much more to give.”

Perhaps none more so than Biles, who at 27 is the oldest American woman to make an Olympic gymnastics team since the 1950s. Nearly a decade after becoming a crossover sensation at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, she never thought she would be able to do it.

And here she is. Still working. Still striving. Not to silence the critics who still mention her on social media and wonder if she will “quit” again, but because she is determined to make the most of her remarkable talent.

“Nobody is forcing me to do this,” said Biles, who posted a total score of 117.225 over two days and won the all-around title by nearly six points ahead of Lee. “I get up every day and choose to work hard in the gym and come out here and perform for myself. Just to remind myself that I can still do this.”

And do so at a level that no one else in his sport – and when he’s at his best, probably in sport in general as well – can match.

The trip to France was never in doubt since Biles returned from a two-year break last summer. What she has accomplished over the past 12 months is win a sixth world all-around title and win her eighth and ninth national championships — both records — while doing the most difficult gymnastics of her life.

She will be a strong contender when she steps onto the field at the Bercy Arena, although she has a lot of work to do before women's qualifying on July 28. There are still some things to fix over the next four weeks.

Biles backed away after landing the Yurchenko double pike vault, a testament to the difficulty of the vault and the immense power generated during the skill, which very few male gymnasts attempt and even fewer land so cleanly.

She fell off the beam after failing her side aerial landing, though she was not as disappointed as she was during a poor performance on Friday that prompted her to utter an expletive in front of the world.

Biles performed brilliantly on the floor exercise, her signature event. While it was a bit out of bounds, it also had the unmatched world-class tumbling that has been much praised lately. From pop star Taylor Swiftwhose song “Ready for It” opens Biles' program.

She stepped off the podium to a standing ovation, then sat down on the steps and savored the moment in what could be her last competitive outing on American soil for quite some time. Maybe forever.

Biles shrugged off questions about what's coming next. It can wait. It's been a long, winding road to get to this moment. She's trying to enjoy it despite being part of a team that will have “a lot of weight on its shoulders.”

He believes that he and his team mates are in a better position to deal with the situation.

“It's really great that Tokyo has given us the opportunity to open up the floor for that conversation,” Biles said. “And so I think now athletes are a little bit more in tune and we just trust our gut.”

And Biles' conscience told her that if she wanted to come back, she had to do so on her own terms. That meant she had to take deliberate steps to ensure her life was no longer defined by her gymnastics.

She married Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens in the spring of 2023, and the two are building a home in the suburbs of northern Houston, where they hope to move in soon after Biles returns from Paris.

Biles is heading to France potentially as the face of the US Olympic movement, though she is well aware that millions of viewers next month will be eager to see if the ills that derailed her in Tokyo resurface.

And while there are still moments of anxiety — even at last year’s world championships — she has taken safety measures to protect herself. She meets with a therapist every week, even during competition season, something she didn’t do in preparation for the 2020 Games.

The Americans will take their oldest women's team to the Games, as Biles' unmatched longevity — she hasn't lost a meet she started and finished since 2013 — and the easing of name, image and likeness rules at the NCAA level have allowed Carey (24), Chiles (23) and Lee (21) to continue competing while capitalizing on their newfound fame at the same time.

He has relied on the experience that comes from sometimes painful contests in which the leading contenders have been defeated. Shilese Jones, Skye Blakely And Kayla DiCello coming out with a foot injury that ruled him out just weeks before the dream of a lifetime was realised.

Watching good friends leave the arena in tears is a reminder of how thin the line can be between succeeding and not. Biles has been on the right side of that line for longer than she ever thought possible. She's going to try and enjoy it, pressure and all.

She may have gotten ahead of herself in 2021. She doesn’t want to let that happen this time.

“I think success is just what I achieve,” she said. “I think right now I've been able to make the Olympic trials and make the Paris Olympic team. So we'll see from there.”


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