Simone Biles ready to vault into Olympic year spotlight

STUTTGART, GERMANY - OCTOBER 05: Simone Biles of USA performs on Vault during Women's Qualification on Day 2 of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on October 05, 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
STUTTGART, GERMANY - OCTOBER 05: Simone Biles of USA performs on Vault during Women's Qualification on Day 2 of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on October 05, 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The four-time Olympic champion will debut a daring new element on Saturday, as world all-around champs Chellsie Memmel and Morgan Hurd return to competition.

As Simone Biles stood at the end of the vault runway during Friday’s training at the U.S. Classic in Indianapolis, applying chalk to where she would grab her legs on a vault no other female gymnast has ever attempted, she tried to think about all the months she’s performed the move in practice.

“I was really nervous chalking up,” Biles told media after. “Chalking up, I was like, ‘It’s OK. I’ve done this so many times.’ I've been doing it for months now. So I felt prepared, and I knew I was prepared. It was just like the initial landing out there in the arena. But once I did it, I felt a lot better.”

But it won’t need to get any better when she throws it in competition the first time Saturday (22 May). Her first attempt was near perfect, with just a small step back on the landing.

The vault, a Yurchenko double pike where Biles does a round off on to the springboard into a back handspring onto the vaulting table and two-and-a-half flips from her hands, is the hardest ever attempted by a female gymnast.

Her second time through had even more power, bouncing out of it like it was a simple warmup run. It was a clear signal that even though the four-time Olympic artistic gymnastics gold medallist hasn’t competed in more than 500 days, she’s still the world’s best.

Beyond her daring new vault, Biles showed her trademark tumbling including the once viral triple-double that bears her name in the rule book, plus solid work on the bars and beam.

And this is just training. Expect fireworks when the crowd, cameras and lights come up in competition.

She won't need them though, as she's unlikely to be challenged in the all-around. That means Biles is using the competition as a vehicle to test out not only her new vault but also her competitive nerves after all that time out of competition.

“I haven't competed in a while, so, just getting back on the competition floor, trying to calm my nerves, doing the new vault and hopefully going out there and hitting four for four would make me really happy,” Biles said of her goals in competition.

Hernandez, Memmel, Hurd also back in action

Biles isn’t the only one making a return in Indianapolis. Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez is in her second meet since the Rio Games, while Olympic silver medallist and 2005 World all-around champion Chellsie Memmel is competing for the first time since 2012. The 2017 World all-around champion and star of the Olympic Channel original series All Around Morgan Hurd will make her 2021 debut, having not competed since winning last season’s American Cup title.

During training, Memmel did a quick run through of her floor exercise routine, full twisting Yurchenkos on vault, a light workout on the uneven bars and full routines on the balance beam.

For her, the results are less important than just being back in competition for the first time in nine years.

“I'm a completely different person,” Memmel said after training Friday. “I'm a wife and I'm a mom, I've been away from, like, doing gymnastics, I've never been away from the sport. But I am a different person. I'm not going to worry about what I was before. I'm trying to just enjoy what I'm doing now. I just hope to do well. I hope to have fun.”

The 2005 world all-around champion and an Olympic silver medallist plans to compete on just vault and balance beam in Indianapolis. She says plans for other events at June’s U.S. Championships remain up in the air and would require a petition. The U.S. Classic is the final competitive chance for athletes to qualify for June’s U.S. Championships.

I would like to do more events and we'll have to see if they're ready,” said Memmel. “Bars is getting closer. It also was part of my panic because I'm like ‘Oh, there's a couple of weeks.’ No, there's really not: we get home, there's one week, and then you have to travel. It's really quick going into Championships.”

Like Memmel, Hurd also hopes to perform more events at the U.S. Championships. In Indianapolis, she says she’ll compete in three events: balance beam and watered-down routines on the vault and floor exercise.

Hurd is returning to competition after elbow surgeries in mid-March and hopes to use this competition to jump start her Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) dreams.“My elbow feels great, it’s like I never had surgery,” she said. “I’m just really building up my confidence and my strength again.”