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Simone Biles edges Shilese Jones at U.S. world championships selection event

Simone Biles edges Shilese Jones at U.S. world championships selection event

After a dominant return to competitive gymnastics last month, Simone Biles officially clinched a spot on the U.S. world championships team — but by a surprisingly narrow margin for the sport’s biggest star.

Biles had mistakes throughout Tuesday evening during the selection event, held in a meet-like setting at the Katy, Tex., gym that hosts the team’s training camps. She only narrowly landed in the top spot ahead of Shilese Jones. Biles’s all-around mark of 55.700 was more than three points lower than her previous three performances and just 0.4 ahead of Jones, who earned a lower-than-usual score on her final routine.

Yet when Biles travels later this month to Antwerp, Belgium, she will still be the favorite to win the all-around gold in her first international competition since withdrawing from multiple events during the Tokyo Olympics. The entire six-member U.S. roster, which includes one alternate and will almost certainly feature Jones as well, will be named Wednesday evening, following the second day of competition in Texas.

Biles began the meet with a fall on bars, her first major mistake since she returned to elite competition this summer. Biles scored just a 12.800, over a point lower than her three marks last month. She responded with a secure beam routine but lost half a point because a pause between jumps meant she didn’t fulfill a required dance series. Biles then performed well on floor but lost four-tenths for going out of bounds.

Those errors added up. And entering the final rotation, Biles was only in third place — 0.75 behind Kaliya Lincoln and 0.65 behind Jones. Lincoln still had to perform on bars, her weakest event, and she didn’t have the difficulty to produce a score that would challenge Jones on bars or Biles on vault. So the race for the automatic world championships berth seemed to be between Biles and Jones.

In return to competition, Simone Biles looks as if she never left

And then Biles rolled backward out of her Yurchenko double pike — a one-point deduction on top of the half-point loss she always incurs because her coach stands on the mat as a spotter. That gave Jones the opportunity to clinch the top spot with her routine on bars. But Jones tapped her feet on the ground as she swung under the low bar and scored a 13.500 — far lower than the 15.000 she recently earned at nationals — so she had to settle for second place.

Jones, the all-around silver medalist at last year’s world championships, has lately emerged as one of the nation’s best gymnasts and will be in contention to earn another all-around medal at world championships. Jones had a standout season in 2022 and finished second at nationals last month. This time, she pulled ahead after Biles had two falls and imperfect showings on each apparatus, but she couldn’t hold on to the lead in the final rotation.

Three Tokyo Olympians — Biles, Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles — are among the field at the selection event, as well as alternates Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello. (Olympic all-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee, who has been limited this year because of a kidney-related health issue, opted to not participate in the trials.) Those returners, plus some talented newcomers, have made this year’s pool of competitors particularly deep.

Carey and Chiles each had multiple falls, and based on the first day of the selection event, Skye Blakely (third all-around), Joscelyn Roberson (fourth with strong vault and floor performances) and Wong (fifth) will have a good chance of making the roster. Lincoln could contribute to the team with her excellent floor. All that is certain for now is that Biles will headline the squad.

Biles has won five all-around gold medals at world championships — in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019. She has often soared above the field, landing in the top spot by a wide margin, and she has added 10 gold medals in individual apparatus finals (five on floor, three on beam and two on vault). Biles has also been part of four teams that won gold at world championships, and the Americans will be heavy favorites to do so again next month in Belgium.

Biles has dominated the sport since winning her first national all-around title at age 16 in 2013. She won every all-around competition she entered since then and arrived at the Tokyo Olympics with the potential to earn five golds. But a disorienting mental block, known in gymnastics as “the twisties,” derailed her competition. She withdrew from the team final after feeling lost in the air during her vault, only completing 1½ twists rather than her intended 2½. Biles cited a need to prioritize her mental and physical well-being, as she then opted out of the all-around final, as well as the medal events for vault, bars and floor. Biles finished her Olympic run with a bronze medal on beam, performing a simpler dismount that did not require twisting.

After the Tokyo Games, Biles’s future in the sport seemed uncertain. Her intention to return to competition only became clear nearly two years later when her name appeared on the roster for the U.S. Classic, held outside Chicago in early August. That meet served as Biles’s post-Tokyo debut, and she appeared to be back in full form. Biles’s routines featured her typical array of difficult skills — including the Yurchenko double pike, the hardest vault in women’s gymnastics that will be named for her if she successfully performs it at the world championships.

For years, Biles has perfected some of the most complex routines in women’s gymnastics, and through the past two months, she has proved her ability has not faded since Tokyo. Now she is officially set to again compete at world championships, another key opportunity in what has already been a successful return.

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