Column: Simone Biles says she feels really good after winning Core Classic all-around title

Simone Biles performs on the balance beam
Simone Biles competes on the balance beam during the Core Classic on Saturday. Biles won the all-round title in her impressive return to gymnastics competition.
(Erin Hooley / Associated Press)

Simone Biles had walked out to the competition floor hundreds of times in hundreds of gyms during her spectacular gymnastics career, but the few steps she took to the blue-carpeted floor at NOW Arena outside Chicago on Saturday represented something new.

The Core Classic would be her first competition since the Tokyo Olympics, when an onset of “the twisties,” a sense of spatial disorientation that made it dangerous for her to twist through the air, forced her to withdraw from the team final and all but one individual event final. This would be the first time she’d test her body to see if it remembered how to generate skill and power, the first time she’d test her mind to see whether it would nudge her forward or drag her back.

Understandably, she was nervous. Jordan Chiles, her close friend and Tokyo teammate, was not.


“Honestly, I knew she was going to go out here and demolish everything and do everything that she’s capable of doing,” said Chiles, who left UCLA to train for a shot at the 2024 Paris Olympics. “I honestly just saw a light in her eyes, and I knew it was just going to take off from there.”

Chiles saw in Biles a once and future champion, a woman who’s ready to take care of the business that her struggles in Tokyo wouldn’t allow her to complete.

Simone Biles, now 26, is taking her first big step toward a third Olympics by competing Saturday in the Core Classic at Now Arena in suburban Chicago.

Aug. 4, 2023

Biles’ anxiety vanished in the time it took her to save a pirouette that nearly went sour and score an impressive 14.00 on the uneven bars, her first event and supposedly her weakest. From there, she flew to first-place finishes on the balance beam and floor exercise in addition to an event-leading score of 15.40 on her Yurchenko double pike vault — and that despite a deduction of 0.60 for placing one foot out of bounds and having her coach on the podium. Every routine was packed with difficulty.

Biles won the all-around competition with 59.10 points, but her return to competition was triumphant in ways that go beyond her imposing five-point victory over Leanne Wong. Biles was dynamic, earning roars from the appreciative crowd that recognized when she pulled off the kind of twisting moves she couldn’t do in Tokyo. She used that positive energy to shake off her anxiety and enjoy a moment she wasn’t sure she’d ever get to experience again.

She’s back, and gymnastics is better for it.

“I feel really good about where I am right now mentally and physically. I still think there are some things to work on throughout the night in my routines, but for my first meet back, I would say it went pretty well,” said Biles, now 26. “I’m very shocked, surprised. I’m happy. I feel a lot better now that that’s out of the way.”

To get to this point, she needed time to reflect and heal. She became an advocate for mental health awareness and is still going through therapy to “make sure everything is in line so that in the gym I can just plunge in.” After carrying the weight of a sport and the U.S. team, she learned it was more than OK to focus on herself and ignore the insults hurled at her on social media from people who called her a quitter and didn’t take into account that she could have hurt herself and her team if she had continued to compete.


While she gazed inward, she accepted a lot of speaking engagements and spent time planning her wedding to Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens. She only occasionally dropped in at her gym, World Champions Centre in Katy, Texas. A path for a return didn’t crystallize for her until early this year, when one of her coaches, Laurent Landi, began to gently guide her in that direction.

When she’d visit the gym, he’d give her routines. “I’m like, ‘What? I’m literally just trying to get in shape,’” she said, laughing. After the new year, she began two-a-day workouts. She picked up the pace in the spring, after a dinner with co-coach Cecile Landi.

“I’m not sure I actually told them, or we told each other,” she said. “It was just like we could kind of see it because then Laurent was like, ‘We’re competing at Classics,’ and I was, ‘I am? OK, got it.’ I think it was just so unspoken that neither one of us wanted to say it. And Cecile too. And then the [leotards] got shipped to the gym and I was like, ‘This is what I’m wearing. I guess I am competing.’ It was kind of unspoken, but we knew.”

Chiles said she knew soon after Tokyo that Biles wouldn’t end her career that way, in sadness and on the sidelines except for a bronze-medal balance beam performance that had been modified to eliminate those perilous twists. Biles probably knew it too, though she wasn’t sure how to get there emotionally or physically. Now she knows.

“You saw what happened: pulling out of five finals when I know what I’m capable of and knowing what I can do,” she said. “It was like a mental injury, you know? So something like that with the proper work and the proper help, I knew I could come back and hopefully have a shot.

“It’s just about really taking care of my body right now, and so that’s what we’re doing and it’s working, so we’re going to continue to do that.”

This time will be different, she said. “I’m also a little bit older. I’m more mature. So at this point, nobody’s forcing me out here. This is truly me. So it’s definitely for me and nobody else,” she said.

But she approached the Tokyo Olympics with the idea that she was doing that for herself and it turned into a nightmare. It didn’t help, she said, that she was told by people on “our inside team” that she had the extra duty of cheering up her teammates during practices. “There were all those outside noises and everybody telling me, ‘You’re our gold-medal token,’ and all of that stuff,” she said. “That was really tough. There were a lot of things that since I had already been to an Olympic Games they were expecting out of me that I kind of couldn’t do my own job. I did as much as I could, and I’m so grateful that I can help those girls because that’s what a captain does.”


She wouldn’t identify who had called her a “gold-medal token,” saying, “I don’t think it really matters.”

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it mattered more that she had a good night, and so did Tokyo all-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee, who has been slowed by a kidney ailment and qualified for the national championships with two solid performances on vault and beam Saturday. Maybe it’s best to look ahead at what’s still left for Biles to accomplish after having won seven Olympic medals and 25 in world championship competition.

“It’s only the beginning for her,” Chiles said. “She’s done an amazing job with who she is.”

Biles said she hasn’t looked ahead to the 2024 Paris Games, but she later contradicted herself by saying “we” are going to have friends and family attend the Games, unlike the policies that were in effect during the COVID-restricted Tokyo Olympics and that “we” will get to live in the athletes’ village. So Paris is clearly on her mind.

And, judging by her performance on Saturday, clearly within her reach.

VIDEO | 06:41
LA Times Today: What Simone Biles’ comeback means for gymnastics — and for her

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