The star gymnast Simone Biles, whose expected dominance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics was disrupted by mental health issues and who has not competed since, may be planning a comeback a year before the Paris Games.
Biles, 26, is listed among the participants in the U.S. Classic, which is scheduled for Aug. 5 near Chicago and is a warm-up competition for the national gymnastics championships to be held Aug. 24-27 in San Jose, Calif.
Her entry came without fanfare; it is uncertain whether she can regain the form that earned Biles four Olympic gold medals, and seven overall, including the all-around title at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
Many in the sport have wondered whether Biles would retire from competition after the Tokyo Games, where she withdrew from most of the events because a mental block, and begin her life outside of gymnastics. After many years of trying to meet expectations and please the public, she looked forward to starting a new chapter. This spring, she married Jonathan Owens, a defensive back with the Green Bay Packers.
But other gymnastics experts have suspected that Biles might try to return to compete in at least the vault, which in some respects requires less training time than other events. Her entry into the U.S. Classic may signal that Biles feels she can still be a force in national and international gymnastics, even though U.S.A. Gymnastics said registering for the event “does not guarantee participation.”
Biles’s inclusion on the participant list, alongside past champions and current contenders, does not firmly declare her intention to compete in Paris, but it makes that a possibility. Her coaches — Laurent and Cecile Landi — are French, and she has said previously that it would be an honor to win a medal for them in their home country.
“We aren’t making comments on her return to the U.S. Classic other than we are super excited for her and we are taking it a day at a time,” Cecile Landi said in a text message. “No pressure. Just enjoying the experience!”
In Tokyo, Biles had been expected to win at least three individual events while attempting to become the first female gymnast to repeat as all-around Olympic champion in more than half a century. She was heavily promoted as perhaps the most anticipated star of those Games, but she carried an immense amount of pressure going into the event. At the time, she was still processing the trauma of being one of the survivors of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the sport.
Biles was among the hundreds of gymnasts and other athletes victimized by Lawrence G. Nassar, a former national team doctor. She and others publicly criticized U.S.A. Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee in ways that bucked the conventions of a sport that encouraged athletes to remain quiet while competing. Shortly after the Tokyo Games, she also was among the gymnasts who testified to Congress about the F.B.I.’s gross mismanagement of the case.
Once the Tokyo Games began, the stress of it all caused her to lose her ability to determine her spatial awareness in the air, a potentially dangerous condition known in gymnastics as the “twisties.”
She withdrew from the team finals and did not compete in the individual all-around competition. Biles said at the time that she was shaking and unable to nap, describing herself as not being in the proper “head space” to continue and concerned with injuring herself. “It just sucks when you are fighting with your own head,” she said.
She remained determined, though, and on the final day of the gymnastics competition in Tokyo, Biles gathered her composure and with a modified routine won a bronze medal on the balance beam. “I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal,” she said at the time. “I was just going out there doing this for me.” She added: “To have one more opportunity to be at the Olympics meant the world to me.”
While Biles faced some criticism for withdrawing from several events in Tokyo, she was widely embraced for her candor in discussing her mental health and for acknowledging her vulnerability.
Along with other athletes like the swimmer Michael Phelps, the tennis player Naomi Osaka, the figure skater Gracie Gold and the basketball players DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, Biles rejected the long tradition of stoicism in sports and represented a cultural shift in a willingness to publicly speak up about anxiety, depression and pressure.
Sian L. Beilock, then the president of Barnard College in New York (and now the president of Dartmouth), a cognitive scientist who studies athletes, business people and students and why they succumb to pressure, said of Biles during the Tokyo Games: “I applaud the fact she was able to ascertain that she wasn’t in the right state of mind and step back. What a hard thing to do. There was so much pressure to continue. And she was able to find the strength to say, ‘No, this is not right.’”
The willingness of Biles and others to speak out confirmed that mental health issues affect everyone, Beilock said.
Juliet Macur contributed reporting.