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Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee to return to competition, with 2024 in their sights

Sunisa Lee and Simone Biles of Team USA during the Women's Balance Beam Final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August 2021.
Iris van den Broek
/
BSR Agency/Getty Images
Sunisa Lee and Simone Biles of Team USA during the Women's Balance Beam Final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August 2021.

A year out from the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, two of the biggest names in gymnastics are getting back into competition.

Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee will headline the U.S. Classic, the last qualifying event before the national championships. The meet will take place August 5 in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates.

Biles, the most decorated U.S. women's gymnast ever, hasn't competed since the Tokyo Olympics two summers ago, when she pulled out of competition during the women's team finals, citing mental health challenges. She also withdrew from the individual all-around competition, and said she was experiencing what gymnasts call"the twisties" – a loss of spatial awareness in the air.

The U.S. ended up winning a silver medal in team competition, and Biles' teammate "Suni" Lee won the individual all-around gold.

Having won the all-around gold in Rio in 2016, Biles was probably the most promoted U.S. athlete going into Tokyo, appearing constantly in ads in the weeks and months beforehand. The 2020 Olympics had been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, and the extended run-up took a toll on Biles. "I don't really know how I'm feeling right now. I just feel I have to go home and work on myself and be OK with what's happened," she saidafter going on to win bronze on the beam.

Her withdrawal from the competition spurred a global conversation about mental health and the pressure put on athletes. Biles said she "felt the weight of the world" on her shoulders coming into the games.

Since then, Biles has kept busy outside the gym. Last year she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in April announcedshe had married her boyfriend, NFL safety Jonathan Owens.

As recently as January, Biles said it was "up in the air" whether she'd return to competition.

For Lee, her gold medal performance in Tokyo vaulted her into the spotlight. She then made the uncommon post-Olympic-gold move of competing in college gymnastics at Auburn University, until a kidney issue cut her sophomore season short.

But Lee said in an April tweet that despite her kidney issue, which she says is not gymnastics-related, "I will not stop pursuing my dreams for a bid to Paris in 2024. In fact, this experience has sharpened my vision for the future."

If both Biles and Lee were to make the U.S. Olympic team next summer, it would be the first time the U.S. squad would include two Olympic all-around winners. And Biles, who is now 26, would be the oldest to make the U.S. women's gymnastics Olympic team in two decades.

The U.S. Olympic team trials take place next June, and the 2024 games start in late July.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.