2023 Core Hydration Classic: Simone Biles is better than ever in first elite competition since Tokyo Olympics

By Patricia Duffy | August 5, 2023
Simone Biles salutes during the 2023 Core Hydration Classic.
© Amy Sanderson

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – Simone Biles made her return to elite competition on Saturday night inside the NOW Arena at the 2023 Core Hydration Classic, besting the field by five points with a 59.100 all-around total more than two years after her last elite meet at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Everything has fallen into place,” Biles said after the meet. “I feel really good about where I am right now, mentally and physically. I still think there are some things to work on… but for my first meet back, I would say it went pretty well. I’m very shocked, surprised, so I’m just happy. I feel a lot better now that that that’s out of the way.”

Leanne Wong was second in the all-around with a 54.100, and Joscelyn Roberson, who bested the field in the first session, finished third with a 54.050.

Biles began her night on bars, earning a 14.000 to finish third on the event behind Zoe Miller (14.750) and Skye Blakely (14.350). In the next rotation, she earned the top score on beam with a 14.800, edging reigning Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee (14.500) for the title there. Roberson and Blakely tied for third on the event with matching 14.300s. On floor, all eyes were once again on Biles as she floated her way through a 6.8-difficulty routine to earn a 14.900. Kaliya Lincoln and Roberson tied for second with 14.000s.

The vault title would’ve likely been Biles’ too if she had competed a second skill, but instead, the honor went to Roberson, although the former’s nearly-perfect Yurchenko double pike was indisputably the most jaw-dropping piece of gymnastics fans witnessed during the meet. The skill earned a 15.400 from USA Gymnastics, with a 6.4 difficulty score, 9.6 execution score, and six-tenths worth of neutral deductions due to one foot out of bounds (-0.1) and Biles’ coach Laurent Landi standing on the platform for safety purposes (-0.5).

The biggest controversy of the night surrounded the YDP because of USA Gymnastics’ valuation of the skill, which has yet to be added to the Code of Points because no one has successfully competed it in international competition yet. When it was provisionally valued in 2021 – when Biles competed it for the first time at that year’s Classic – the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) gave it a 6.6 valuation. Since all vaults underwent a four-tenths devaluation in the new COP, the skill would therefore be a 6.2. This is the purported valuation that was awarded at national team camp last month.

Nonetheless, Biles’ best attempt in warmups, which was virtually stuck, and the one during the competition were the best two she’s done to date.

“I was talking to Laurent after, and we were like, I think I’m in better shape than I was in 2021,” Biles said.

“I think that goes mentally and physically, so that’s really nice, and we’re a little bit more prepared. Because, usually at Classics, you’re 50-60%, and then at championships like 80, and then hopefully at worlds camp and then worlds you’re 100%, but I really do feel a little bit more prepared than any other Classics that I’ve been to. But I’ve always had faith in Cecile [Landi] and Laurent, and I always knew if… I went to the gym and told them, hey, I want to compete this year, I want to be doing Classics, they would prepare me. And that’s exactly what they did and what we did as a team, so I’m really happy to have them by my side because I couldn’t do it without them.”

As it happened

Rotation 1

Contained to three events, the Olympians started on bars and beam, with Biles finessing her way to a hit bars set with an incredible 6.0 difficulty score. The finesse came toward the end of the set when she almost went over on her toe 1/1 to full-twisting double back dismount. Instead, she powered through and earned a 14.000.

Over on beam, Lee proved that she’s meant to be here, even while she continues to battle a kidney-related health issue. The reigning Olympic all-around champion was visibly emotional after hitting a 6.2-difficulty beam set that included loads of connections and a unique Gainer tuck full dismount to notch a 14.500 (8.3 execution score).

Not to be forgotten, Wong and Jordan Chiles also started their competitions on bars, earning a 13.750 and a 13.900, respectively. 

Over on vault, 2022 world team champion Blakely competed two vaults, including a clean double-twisting Yurchenko with a controlled step that earned a 14.100. Her second vault was a Yurchenko half-on, half off. Lincoln bested Blakely in her execution of the DTY, earning a 14.150. 

Rotation 2

Biles started the rotation off on beam, and it was a routine that simply couldn’t be matched. The two-time reigning Olympic balance beam bronze medalist was basically flawless on the event, opening with a new switch leap mount to switch half to back pike. She followed that with a speedy triple wolf turn, front aerial to split jump to straddle jump, and back handspring layout stepout to layout stepout. The only bout of shakiness came on some choreo after the flight series and continued after her side aerial, but she regained her composure and finished strong with a full-twisting double back dismount to score a 14.800, besting Lee’s score for the event title. The routine earned a 6.5 difficulty score and 8.3 execution score.

Chiles went 12.800 on beam after a major bobble on her opening flight series. Tiana Sumanasekera earned a 13.500 for her set.

Over on floor, 2020 Olympic team alternate Kayla DiCello showed a strong three-pass routine to earn a 13.150 in her elite return after a standout freshman year at Florida. 

Blakely excelled on bars, earning a 14.350 with a 5.9 difficulty score and 8.450 execution score. 

Rotation 3

Lee executed a clean full-twisting Yurchenko on vault early on in Rotation 3 to earn a 13.500 (9.3 execution), setting herself up for a more difficult vault as she feels up to it in the coming weeks and months. DiCello competed the same vault for a 13.400.

On beam, Blakely was the standout, wow-ing the crowd with difficult connection after difficult connection. It was a show of why she is a world beam finalist.

Floor was the showstopper of the meet, and no one did it better than Biles. She opened with a huge full-twisting double layout with so much power that she had a big bounce at the end but stayed in bounds. She followed with a nearly stuck front full to double-twisting double back, double layout half AKA the Biles I (minus the stag due to a slight slip), and a double layout to close. The resulting 14.900 (6.8 difficulty, 8.1 execution) was just a preview of the mastery to come.

Rotation 4

Rotation 4 saw Lincoln earn a 14.000 as the only competitor on floor. Meanwhile, Lee scratched bars after earning the necessary two-event qualifying score to advance to nationals on beam and vault.

The grand finale came on vault, where Biles executed the Yurchenko double pike to near perfection, taking a small step over the line on her landing.

It’s important to note: the YDP should be valued at a 6.2 based off the FIG’s provisional valuation in 2021, which would make Biles’ vault score a 15.200 and her all-around total a 58.900.

Read our recap from the first senior women’s session here.