COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Simone Biles is back.
And the superstar gymnast isn’t just back in competition this weekend for the first time since capturing four gold medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, but she’s also back in the city where she was born.
The 21-year-old Biles officially returns to competition at the GK U.S. Classic on Saturday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio, a venue just two miles from where she was born at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center back in 1997.
So along with thousands of loyal fans expected to witness her return, Biles, who now lives in the Houston area, expects a strong contingent of family members to be in attendance.
“My whole family is still living in Columbus, my dad’s side at least,” said Biles, who moved when she was around 5 years old. “So there will be a full crowd out there. Just look for them in red t-shirts.”
The fans should have plenty to cheer for.
Biles utterly dominated the last Olympic quad, winning all three all-around world titles before winning the all-around, floor exercise, vault and team gold medals in Rio. In total she has 14 medals from the world championships, marking the most in U.S. history, and five from the Olympics.
Following a planned post-Rio break from the sport, Biles returned to the gym last summer with the goal of debuting two routines at the U.S. Classic before competing all four at the national championships.
In a surprise announced on social media last week, she’ll now compete on all four apparatuses in Columbus.
In other words, her decision to return to the sport is so far going as hoped.
“I try not to put too much expectations on myself because I know this is my first time out here again in over two years, so I just want go out there and lay it all on the table,” she said.
Biles, who built a reputation for being unflappable on the competition floor, said she feels confident going into what will be her eighth U.S. Classic. Her new coach, Laurent Landi, preached patience.
“She’s ready in practice, we’ll see at the meet how she handles everything else,” said Landi, who took over after former coach Aimee Boorman moved to Florida. “She might hide it pretty well, but mentally it’s very difficult and that’s what’s going to make the difference at the end of the day. It’s her mental and everything that has happened outside the gym. I want to keep it just gymnastics, pure and simple. We want to make her mind focus on that.”
The goal for Biles this weekend is to get some experience before next month’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships, which take place Aug. 16-19 in Boston and are part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. That, hopefully, would lead to the world championships, which begin Oct. 25 in Qatar.
Also scheduled to compete in Columbus are reigning world all-around champion Morgan Hurd; U.S. all-around champion and 2016 Olympic alternate Ragan Smith; and 2017 world vault and floor exercise silver medalist Jade Carey. For many of the gymnasts, though, the U.S. Classic is their last opportunity to qualify for nationals.
“This is my eighth Classic, and that’s kind of crazy because for some of the younger ones, it’s their first Classic,” Biles said. “I feel like it’s inspiring for me to lead them and have them look up to some of us older ones. It’s exciting for both groups.”
Having already won all of the biggest competitions in the sport, Biles said she feels much more relaxed this time around.
“I feel like now I don’t have to be so nervous about walking on egg shells in what we do because we already achieved what we did in Rio,” Biles said. “We’re already Olympians at this point, where before you were nervous. Everything you did could mess up whatever you wanted to do. It’s a lot better because I’m coming back and doing what I want to do and not doing it for anybody else.”
The decision to come back to the sport was not made lightly. So far, Biles is the only member of the winning 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team to return to competition, though Madison Kocian has continued on the NCAA level. With her first competition just one day away, though, Biles has no regrets.
“I figured out it’s for me to come back and have fun and really enjoy the sport and not set so many expectations on myself,” she said, “because I met a lot of those in the last quad, so now it’s just really fun.”