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Simone Biles easily wins all-around title and qualifies for Olympic trials

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Two years after the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the seven-time medalist Simone Biles took a break from gymnastics, citing her mental health as the reason for her hiatus. Now, with the Summer Olympics set to kickoff in Paris next month, Biles is back, and she looks as dominant as ever. NPR's new sports correspondent Becky Sullivan is here in Studio 31 with us to give us a preview of this month's Olympic trials for USA Gymnastics. Hi, Becky.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hello.

SUMMERS: So the USA Gymnastics Championship's this past weekend. That's one of those big events running up to the summer's Olympic games.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

SUMMERS: Just tell us how Simone Biles did.

SULLIVAN: I mean, she looked so good, I mean, definitely, like, amazing in her gymnastics events. But also, she, like, looked happy. And she was smiling. And, you know, between events, she was just, like, hanging out with her teammate. She was just laughing, talking to reporters, laughing. It was just so nice to see. And, you know, talking about the gymnastics themselves, this is a sport where people win, you know, at times by, like, a tenth of a point or tenths of a point. She won the all-around by nearly 6 points.

SUMMERS: Wow.

SULLIVAN: So just incredibly dominating. And then she also won every single individual event this weekend. She won the vault, balance beam, uneven bars and floor exercise. So a sweep, which is incredible because she's now 27, which means she's years older than most of her competitors.

And there was one moment that I'll highlight specifically. This was during the vault of the all-around. During her all-around, she attempted something so difficult and didn't quite manage the landing. In fact, she fell flat on her back during the landing, which would normally be a huge ding, but her attempted routine was just so hard that it didn't matter. She still scored a 15.0, which is better than any of her other competitors. Truly, it was unbelievable.

SUMMERS: For folks who may not remember, can you just remind us how things went for Simone Biles...

SULLIVAN: Definitely.

SUMMERS: ...In Tokyo and how much how much of a comeback year this has really been for her?

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. So in Tokyo, what happened is the pressure of her second Olympics had started to get to her. And she got what gymnasts called the twisties, which is where your body, I think, basically forgets how to twist in mid air. I say, I think, because it's not like I've ever had the twisties.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) Right.

SULLIVAN: But this was serious for her. She had to pull out of some events, citing her mental health. And then after the Olympics, she took off all of the rest of the year. She took off all of 2022, only returned about a year ago. So that's why it's, like, especially amazing that it looks like she hasn't missed a beat despite missing all that time.

SUMMERS: And about her mental health, what has she had to say about it?

SULLIVAN: You know, she's talking really openly about it now, which is so interesting. She said yesterday in a press conference that she's been going to therapy every week, that that's been a huge help. And there was a moment in that press conference where a reporter asked her, you know, when you first started getting back to training, did you think that you were going to be able to get back to, like, this level, to form this high? And here's how she answered that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONE BILES: To be completely honest, no. It took a lot mentally and physically to just trust my gymnastics again, and most importantly, trust myself because I think that was the hardest part after Tokyo is I didn't trust myself to do gymnastics.

SULLIVAN: And she added that, you know, the mental part was even harder to get back than the physical part. But now she looks great. She's very much on track to make the Olympics and be competing for medals once she's there.

SUMMERS: All right. So that's Simone Biles, sounds like she stole the GOAT. But what about the other potential Olympians? How'd they look?

SULLIVAN: Yeah. So this event this past weekend was the last major one sort of before the official Olympic trials take place for USA Gymnastics at the end of the month. So that's the event that's going to determine which gymnasts will go to Paris to compete, but we got a little preview of them. So, you know, you might remember from Tokyo, one of the breakout stars was Sunisa Lee. She looked strong, especially on balance beam. We're expecting some big things from her uneven bars at the trials.

Another Olympian in 2021 was Jade Carey. She also performed well. And then a name to plant in your mind who wasn't in the Olympics last time, but we're expecting, hopefully, will be at the Olympics this time is Shilese Jones. She had to pull out of the event this weekend because she had a hurt shoulder, but she will compete at the trials. And just to quick mention the men, of course, the biggest story this year is the comeback of Brody Malone, who broke his leg last year, had this really gruesome dismount injury during a competition. So he was back this weekend and looked very solid. He won the all-around, got a first-place finish in the horizontal bar and second place in the rings. So excited for him, too.

SUMMERS: Lots to watch on the road to Paris. That is NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan. Becky, thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.