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Simone Biles, the world’s most dominant gymnast, has something new for Tokyo

Simone Biles will be aiming to win her second all-around gold medal this summer in Tokyo. (TF-Images/Getty Images)
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When Simone Biles made her Olympic debut in 2016, she cemented her status as the best gymnast in the world, pushing the boundaries of the sport with extraordinarily difficult routines to win the all-around competition and lead the United States to team gold. This summer in Tokyo, she intends to reach even greater heights.

Biles, 24, has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, but she almost certainly will be named to the four-member U.S. team at Olympic trials in late June. During a U.S. Olympic media event Wednesday, Biles said she plans to begin her 2021 competition season at the U.S. Classic on May 22, and she’ll perform in all four disciplines. The U.S. Championships will be held in early June before trials later that month.

“I’m feeling pretty good, pretty confident,” Biles said. “All of our training has geared us for this moment. So I’m just super excited for the journey.”

Biles has won five Olympic medals (four gold, one bronze) and 25 world championship medals, including 19 gold. She has four skills named after her, after becoming the first gymnast to perform them at a world championships or Olympics. She said Wednesday that she will “definitely debut” another new skill, a Yurchenko double pike on vault, before Tokyo.

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No woman has attempted that vault in competition, but Biles has posted training videos on social media of her successfully completing the skill to a competition-like landing surface. In the skill, Biles pushes off the vault with her hands and then flips twice in a piked position. Usually, gymnasts flip only once while adding twists to increase the vault’s difficulty. Biles did not specify the competition in which she plans to perform this new vault, but if she executes it successfully, it will further her dominance.

“We need to see, get it out there, kind of control my adrenaline once I do that before the Olympics so we can perfect it in competition,” Biles said of the vault.

In Tokyo, Biles presumably will compete in the qualification round, the team final, the all-around final and event finals, but when she attempts the Yurchenko double pike is a complicated decision. Event finals can be a time when gymnasts feel more freedom to attempt more challenging skills because their qualification to finals or their team’s medal chances are not at stake. However, in event finals, gymnasts are not allowed what’s called a one-touch warmup just before the competition begins, so Biles said she probably would perform the vault only if she is later in the lineup and has time to quickly go to the separate warmup gym to prepare.

“I think that it’s kind of dangerous, given everything that everybody’s doing,” Biles said when asked about the lack of a one-touch warmup. “And I’m not sure why they do that or why that’s the rule, but it is a little bit crazy to me because we are throwing some very high-level skills.”

Because of the lack of that warmup in event finals, Biles recently told Texas Monthly: “I feel like it might be a better bet to do it in the all-around final because you do get that one-touch warmup, rather than vault finals where you don’t. So I feel like we just have to go in and weigh the options, see what’s smart, get a feel of the vault.”

After the Tokyo Olympics were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Biles said she took off seven weeks and then eased back into training. Every time she sees the Tokyo Olympics trending on Twitter, Biles said, “my heart drops just because I don’t know what it’s going to be.” But the decision to ban spectators from outside Japan gave her confidence that organizers will be able to keep the virus from spreading in Tokyo and in the Olympic Village during the Games.

As for her competitive plans after Tokyo, Biles said, “I’m not so sure.” Her coaches, Cecile Canqueteau-Landi and Laurent Landi, are from France, the site of the 2024 Olympics, so “they’ve kind of guilted me into at least being a specialist and coming back,” Biles said. As a specialist, she would perform only on certain apparatuses rather than in the all-around.

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Since the 2016 Olympics, Biles said she has grown into an adult and moved into her own house with a dog. She has become more comfortable using her voice and massive platform to advocate for social causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and to criticize USA Gymnastics for its failure to protect athletes from sexual abuse committed by former team physician Larry Nassar.

Biles and other survivors, including two-time Olympian Aly Raisman, have pushed USA Gymnastics to investigate the matter further. USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung recently said the governing body has fully cooperated with six independent investigations and will continue to cooperate with any future investigations.

Biles said her experiences with the national team, both at training camps and when traveling to international competitions, feel different because of the new athlete-safety protocols. But she said it’s still “disheartening” for survivors to not have more answers about what enabled the abuse.

“I feel like they just want to sweep it under the rug,” Biles said. “But that’s not how to go about it. I feel like, in gymnastics, you get deductions for stepping out of the line and all this stuff. And they just get slaps on the wrist and keep going. … I just feel like there needs to be consequences for their actions, but I’m sure it’s coming.”