The path to the 2024 Paris Olympics is now a little clearer for Simone Biles, the Black Catholic gymnast who recently returned from a two-year hiatus. At the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships last week in Belgium, she proved she hasn’t lost a step—or leap.
Biles returns to the U.S. this week as the most decorated gymnast in the history of the competition (and overall), having won her sixth all-around gold medal since her debut at worlds in Antwerp 10 years ago as a teenager. She bested her international rival Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, as well as her countrywoman Shilese Jones.
With Andrade and Jones, Biles topped the first all-Black podium in the history of the event at worlds, where she has now won 30 medals overall and is the oldest American woman to make the podium.
At 26 years old, Biles was the favorite to win the all-around despite having competed this summer for the first time since the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Shortly before appearing at worlds, Biles confirmed her intention to compete at Paris in 2024, erasing all speculation that she ended her hiatus simply for personal reasons.
“I still feel like I have some personal goals,” she told reporters following the U.S. National Championships in late August, though she did not then specify further or commit to Paris.
The personal served to lift the communal during the team competition in Belgium, with Biles’ steady foundation across all events leading the American women to their record seventh-straight world title. Her anchoring performance on the floor became a theme of the week, repeated on Sunday for her individual win.
Under the bright lights and the roar of the U.S. national anthem, Biles’ appearance on the all-around podium brought tears for the crowd and the gymnast alike. The moment underscored her triumphant rebound from a much-discussed 2021 mental heath scare in Japan, which had many onlookers thinking she might never compete again.
“Real talk, I didn’t think so either,” Biles told a fan on social media Sunday morning.
Among Biles’ various nearly flawless routines during the championships, Biles pulled out all the stops on vault during the team competition, landing the most difficult move in all of women’s gymnastics. It was the first time anyone in the history of the competition successfully landed a Yuchenko double pike, granting Biles the right to its official name in the judge’s books.
As such, the move is now known as the “Biles II”—just the latest notch in the belt of the consensus G.O.A.T. of the sport.
On Saturday, Biles attempted the maneuver again in the individual portion, suffering her first in-competition fall since her return to the mat in August. It resulted in her only non-gold medal at worlds, and will perhaps give increased motivation for her appearance in Paris next summer.
There, she is expected to face much of the same competition as at worlds, where a candid moment saw her symbolically crown Andrade—who secured world all-around gold in Biles’ absence last year. Does this signal Biles’ soon-coming retirement from competition, perhaps after the Olympics? Or perhaps a simple acknowledgment of the sport’s emerging talent?
Time will tell, but with 23 world gold medals now in her possession and showing no signs of slowing down, Biles told reporters she was focused on the present and on her personal stability.
“I just wanted to go out there and do my routines again,” she said on Sunday.
“I had to prove to myself that I could still get out here and twist. I could prove all the haters wrong, that I’m not a quitter. As long as I’m out there twisting again and finding the joy for gymnastics again, who cares?”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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