Shilese Jones prepares to compete in the women's balance beam at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 19, 2022 in Tampa, Fla.
TAMPA, Fla. – More often than not, when Shilese Jones answers a question the first word out of her mouth is absolutely.
The word just naturally comes out.
Remove the literal translation, though, and the word is a projection of confidence.
So when the 20-year-old gymnast is asked whether, after a year of heartbreak and tragedy and, ultimately, fortitude, she could have written a better script for her return to the national championships, the beginning of her response makes even more sense.
“Absolutely,” she said Friday, after posting the top score of 57.200 on night one of the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Tampa, Florida.
“I’ve been dreaming about it, and I knew it was possible,” she continued. “Anything is possible.”
Coming into the first U.S. championships in the post-Simone Biles era, upwards of six women entered with a realistic chance of winning the all-around title. Two are Olympians, one of them a gold medalist. Two others reached the all-around podium at last year’s world championships, while another yet was a teenager identified years ago as a star in the making for the 2024 Olympic quad.
Yet, at least on this night, it was Jones who not only came out on top but did so emphatically.
It started with her thunderous uneven bars routine that scored 14.850 — the highest score on any event. Performing with the poise of a superstar, she dazzled through the night, also posting the highest-scoring floor exercise (14.100) and vault (14.550), while ranking third in balance beam (13.700).
This was the same Jones who was devastated last July to miss out on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team, then heartbroken in December when her father, Sylvester, died following a long battle with kidney disease.
Long content in her plan to take one real shot at the Olympics in 2020, then embark on an NCAA career at Florida, Jones changed her mind after her dad died. Encouraged by other gymnasts to keep going, she moved from her training base in Ohio back home to the Seattle area earlier this year. Her start date at Florida is now set for fall of 2024 — after the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Jones has a long way to go, with the next test coming Sunday in night two of the U.S. championships. Scores from both nights are combined to determine the national champions.
“I’m just really proud and really thrilled to be in this position,” she said.
In recent history, the women’s leader on the first day of the U.S. championships has always gone on to win the all-around title. The last gymnast to come back from a deficit to win the title was 2008 Olympian Bridget Sloan, who went from third to first in 2009.
A talented group will be nipping at Jones’ heels Sunday.