Simone Biles competes on the balance beam

Simone Biles leads U.S. women’s gymnastics team to world gold after teammate’s injury

Simone Biles led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to another team gold medal at the 2023 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Wednesday.

This win marks the seventh consecutive world championship victory for the U.S. team and the 26th world medal for Biles.

The competition started on a tough note for Team USA, with Joscelyn Roberson, who trains alongside Biles at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, sustaining an injury in warmups and being carried off the podium before the first rotation. Roberson appeared to land at a low angle while warming up a difficult vault called the “Cheng,” which Biles also performs.

Her teammate, Leanne Wong, was substituted in for Roberson on vault and floor. Wong was initially planning to compete only one event – the balance beam – and delivered clutch routines in Roberson’s place on extremely short notice.

Despite competing with only four gymnasts instead of five, the U.S. team finished over two points ahead of the silver medal-winning team,Brazil.This marks the first world team medal for Brazil, led by reigning world champion, Rebeca Andrade. The team from France claimed the bronze for their first team medal since 1950.

Shilese Jones, the 2022 world all-around silver medalist, started Team USA off with a strong double-twisting Yurchenko on vault. Wong performed the same vault after a very brief warm up, cementing her spot on the team as a reliable athlete in a pinch. Biles did not compete her new Yurchenko double pike vault, but opted for a Cheng – the same vault Roberson fell on in warm ups – and scored a 14.800.

After a stellar bars rotation for Team USA, Wong fell off the balance beam, incurring a full point deduction. The routine scored a brutal 11.700, but hit routines from Jones and Biles kept them in first place going into the fourth and final rotation.

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Biles anchored the team’s effort on floor, solidifying their win with an enormous 15.166.

The team from Great Britain, who entered the team final as the silver medal favorites, counted three falls in a performance that took them off the podium. The other teams in medal contention – Brazil and China – had falls on beam and floor respectively, opening the door for France to contend for a medal. They were the only team with no falls today.

“Nobody wants these medals,” NBC commentator and 2008 Olympic silver medalist, Samantha Peszek, joked on the Peacock broadcast.

The team win came after the U.S. women dominated the qualification round, with two athletes qualifying for every final. Biles qualified in first place for the all-around, vault, floor and balance beam finals and in fifth place for the uneven bars final, which is considered to be her “weakest” event.

Biles will be joined by Jones in the all-around, floor, uneven bars and balance beam finals. Roberson qualified to the vault final as well, but the status of her injury has yet to be announced.

Simone Biles balances on a beam during the Artistic Gymnastics World ChampionshipsSimone Biles competes during the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Wednesday.Geert vanden Wijngaert / AP

The reigning Olympic champion in the team competition, Russia, was banned from competing at the world championships for the second consecutive year because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. This was the final opportunity to qualify a team to the 2024 Olympics, and the Russian team’s absence here makes it ineligible to compete in Paris as of now.

In the qualification round Sunday, Biles became the first woman to land a new vault, the Yurchenko double pike, successfully getting the skill named after her in the code of points. It has been awarded a difficulty score of 6.4 — the highest of any vault in women’s gymnastics — and will be called the “Biles II,” as it is her second original skill on the apparatus.

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These championships are being held in the same city and same venue where Biles made her international debut and won her first world title 10 years ago at age 16. The qualification round Sunday marked her return to international competition after struggling with the “twisties” and pulling out of multiple events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“I think we have to be a little bit more cautious about the way we do things,” she said in a recent interview with NBC’s “TODAY” show. “Everything that we’re doing leading up to [Paris 2024] is very intentional. We’ve kind of been playing it on the down-low this time, making sure mentally and physically are both intact.”

Biles took a two year hiatus from the sport, during which she married NFL player Jonathan Owens and focused on “being intentional, going to therapy, and making sure everything is aligned so that [she] can do [her] best in the gym, be a good wife, good daughter, good friend, all the good things.”

The all-around final, in which Biles and Jones will compete for individual all-around medals, will be broadcast live on Peacock on Oct. 6. The individual apparatus finals for vault and uneven bars are scheduled for Oct. 7 and balance beam and floor finals are scheduled for the final day of competition Oct. 8.

Kaetlyn Liddy