SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Simone Biles did not come back to do a victory lap.
The gymnastics star sent a message on Friday night at the U.S. Championships, putting together a thrilling performance that included a show-stopping vault and looking ready for another shot at Olympic glory in Paris next summer.
The 26-year-old, wearing a bedazzled purple leotard and with her family adorned in matching T-shirts that read “Still I Rise,” posted an all-around total of 59.300 that put a record eighth national title on Sunday well within reach.
As late as this spring, Biles was unsure about how dedicated she was to a return after dealing with a mental block known as “ the twisties ” that led her to remove herself from multiple finals at the 2020 Olympics to protect her own safety.
She dazzled in her comeback meet in Chicago this month. The 2016 Olympic champion was even better in front of an SAP Center crowd that roared every time she saluted the judges to start a routine.
They only grew louder when she finished them, particularly on vault, where her blend of power and precision can turn two seconds of flight into a spectacle.
She flirted with a Yurchenko double pike in 2021, a vault so difficult few men attempt it and no woman has ever landed it in international competition. On Friday, she may have perfected it, racing down the runway before doing a roundoff onto the table followed by two backflips with her hands tucked behind her ramrod straight legs.
Save for a small hop on the landing, it was essentially flawless. The judges agreed, awarding her a staggering 9.8 for execution. Her 15.7 point total was the highest of the night on any event even though it included Biles voluntarily taking a half-point neutral deduction so coach Laurent Landi could stand on the mat nearby in case things went awry on her dismount.
Instead, he got a close-up view of an athlete that seems to be near the peak of her considerable powers.
While Biles wasn’t perfect — she wobbled while mounting the balance beam, nearly botched her wolf turn and stepped out of bounds on floor exercise — the gap between herself and the rest of a talented group of Americans appears just as large as it was nearly a decade ago.
Shilese Jones, the runner-up at nationals last year and a three-time silver medalist at the 2022 world championships, is second with a score of 56.550 that included a stunning 14.9 on uneven bars.
Skye Blakely is third at 55.700, with Leanne Wong in fourth at 55.350 and 2020 Olympic silver medalist and three-time world championship medalist Jordan Chiles in fifth.
Reigning Olympic champion Sunisa Lee, who is battling a kidney condition that has limited her training, competed on vault and balance beam. Wearing a leotard inspired by Auburn — where she competed for two seasons — Lee did a watered-down Yurchenko full on vault and her beam routine was elegant, though she did hop off at the end of a series.
The U.S. Championships are the last warmup before a camp next month in which the five-woman team that will head to Belgium for the world championships is selected.
Biles, back as if she never left, should dust off her passport.