Simone Biles has won every meet she’s entered since making her return to elite gymnastics two months ago. Beginning Sunday at the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, the 26-year-old can continue that trend and add to her record medal haul at the event. Worlds also marks the first time since the Tokyo Olympics that Biles will compete as part of Team USA, headlining a squad that is heavily favored to win its seventh straight gold.
On Friday, Biles will attempt to win a record sixth world all-around title 10 years after she won her first at age 16.
“It’s full circle,” Biles said of her return to the city where her world championships journey started in 2013. “To go again in 2023 is pretty crazy.”
Biles already owns 25 world championships medals, 19 of them gold, and is the favorite to win individual titles on vault, beam and floor, in addition to the all-around. She will have the chance to have a fifth skill named after her if she successfully lands a Yurchenko double pike, a vault no woman other than her has ever attempted in competition.
She’s joined by five women with impressive resumes of their own. Three of the five — Shilese Jones, Skye Blakely and Leanne Wong — return from last year’s worlds team, which won gold in Liverpool, England.
Only 17-year-old Joscelyn Roberson, who trains alongside Biles at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, is a worlds rookie, but has a legitimate shot at scoring individual hardware on floor and vault. Kayla DiCello, an alternate in Tokyo, is in Antwerp as the team’s replacement athlete.
So, who are the women competing alongside Biles?
Shilese Jones, 21, Seattle, Washington
Best events: bars, all-around
The reigning world all-around silver medalist, Jones has had a phenomenal comeback after two difficult years in which she dealt with multiple injuries and the loss of her father.
In 2021, Jones was eyeing the Tokyo Olympics when she suffered fractured bones in her back and foot as the result of a car accident shortly before trials. She finished 10th at the meet and just missed being named as an alternate. Six months later, her father, Sylvester, died after a long battle with kidney disease. Jones has said his memory fuels her performances this time around. “The goals are super high now,” she said.
Last November, Jones led the U.S. team to gold in Liverpool and took silver on bars and in the all-around. Then she didn’t compete for 10 months while she healed from shoulder and ankle injuries. Since her return, she’s been stellar.
At U.S. championships in August and at the worlds team selection camp in September, Jones finished behind Biles in the all-around and looks poised to bring home more individual medals from Antwerp. She has also submitted a new skill — a triple turn on floor with leg at horizontal — that may be named after her at worlds.
“I’m coming for that bars gold medal,” she said. “There’s some upgrades that I want to put out to the world. I felt like I wasn’t fully where I needed to be last year. Now I feel more confident in my skills.”
Skye Blakely, 18, Dallas, Texas
Best events: bars, beam
Blakely was on a clear path this season toward making her second-straight world championships team. She took silver on vault, uneven bars and balance beam at U.S. championships in August and won beam and finished third in the all-around at the team selection camp two weeks ago.
Her success this season is right on track for her ultimate goal: making the 2024 Olympic team. Last go round, Blakely was too young to qualify for the Olympics — until the Games were postponed one year due to COVID-19. In 2021, her first year competing as a senior, she qualified to Olympic trials, but withdrew because of an elbow injury.
This year, she is focused on helping the U.S. win another team gold in Antwerp, where she can make a case for herself and showcase what she has to offer in Paris next summer. Next fall, Blakely will join Wong and DiCello at the University of Florida.
Leanne Wong, 20, Kansas City, Missouri
Best events: bars, vault
A junior at the University of Florida, Wong was named to her third straight world championships team on her golden birthday on Sept. 20. It was “the best present,” she said.
One of the most consistent gymnasts on the U.S. team, Wong traveled to Tokyo as an alternate and since then has taken advantage of the new NIL rule allowing gymnasts to compete in college and elite while making money off their name, image and likeness. In addition to gymnastics, Wong runs an online hair bow business, the Leanne Wong Bowtique.
In 2021, just two months after the Tokyo Games, Wong took silver in the all-around at worlds and then started her freshman season at Florida, where she helped the Gators finish second in the country at 2022 and 2023 NCAAs. One of the few gymnasts juggling college and elite in the lead up to Paris, Wong is coached by her UF coaches in both realms.
“My coaches at Florida and I work really well together, so I’m enjoying this relationship and being able to do elite gymnastics from college coaches,” she said.
Watch for Wong, known for her unflappable poise, to compete first on most events during team qualification and set the tone for her teammates.
Joscelyn Roberson, 17, Houston, Texas
Best events: floor, vault
Because the world championship team is made up of five competing athletes, unlike four in Tokyo, there is space for event specialists — gymnasts who earn high scores on one or two events, but don’t compete in the all-around. At the start of the season, it looked like reigning Olympic floor and world vault champion Jade Carey, who also competes at Oregon State, would be that athlete.
But after shaky performances at U.S. championships and the team selection camp, it is Roberson who is filling that spot. One of the highest-scoring gymnasts in the country on both events, Roberson has been rock solid all season, hitting all six of her routines at the team selection meet. “It really makes me emotional when I think about it too much,” Roberson said.
Last year at U.S. championships, Roberson finished 18th in the all-around, but second on vault. Shortly after, she and her family moved from Texarkana to Houston, where she joined WCC. “When I moved to WCC, this was the main goal,” she says of making the worlds team.
She says coaches Laurent and Cecile Landi, who moved to WCC and started training with Biles in 2017, have been instrumental in helping her overcome her fears, gain confidence and upgrade her routines. “If you know her and see her work on a daily basis, you wouldn’t be surprised she’s made it here,” Cecile Landi said. “She has wanted this since she was a little kid.”