By Jill Martin, George Ramsay and Homero De la Fuente, CNN
(CNN) — In her first competitive event since 2021, legendary gymnast Simone Biles made a triumphant return, claiming first place in front of a packed house at the Core Hydration Classic Saturday.
The gymnastics superstar scored a 14.0 on the uneven bars, a 14.8 on the balance beam, a 14.9 in the floor exercise and a remarkable 15.4 in the vault before a roaring crowd in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, just outside Chicago.
Overall, Biles finished in first place in the all-around, vault, floor routine and balance beam. She placed third on the uneven bars.
“It felt really good, especially after everything that’s happened over the past year,” Biles said in an interview with CNBC after the event, referencing her hiatus from the sport to prioritize her mental health.
“So, everyone that was cheering, made posters and all that in the crowd, it just made my heart melt that they still believe in me and I got back out here and I did what I was training so I’m very happy with the result.”
The seven-time Olympic medalist made her first appearance since pulling out of several events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Asked about why she decided to return, Biles replied. “I always kind of knew as soon as everything that happened in Tokyo. So, this time I’m doing it for me, I worked a lot on myself, and I believe in myself a little bit more, just coming back out here and starting the first steps again.”
Her scores put her ahead of competitors Jordan Chiles, Leanne Wong, and Katelyn Jong at the Core Hydration Classic, previously called the US Classic.
During her floor routine, Biles performed a double layout with a half-turn – a move named after her, to earn score of 14.9.
Biles then performed a Yurchenko double pike, considered the hardest women’s vault in the world, to earn an impressive score of 15.4. She will need to perform the Yurchenko double pike in an international competition for it to be officially named after her.
Entering the final event, Biles needed a score of 10.350 to move into first place in the all-around competition. She finished 5 points ahead of second place finisher Leanne Wong, with an all-around score of 59.1 and qualified for the US Championships in San Jose, California, later this month.
Competitors are scored on a combination of execution and difficulty, with total scores for each event typically falling in between 12 and 15.
Being cheered on by the crowd, Biles reacted with a fist bump and her signature smile after finishing the final event.
“It means the world because after everything that kind of transpired in Tokyo and it took a lot,” Biles said of the fan support. “I worked on myself a lot, I still do therapy weekly and it’s just been so exciting to come out here and have the confidence I had before.”
The 26-year-old athlete withdrew from the women’s team final in Tokyo after suffering from what is known as the “twisties” – a mental block that causes gymnasts to lose track of their position in midair.
Biles opted not to compete in four individual finals at the Tokyo Games, but she did return to compete in the balance beam, winning bronze after using a modified dismount in her routine.
The Core Hydration Classic was the final opportunity for athletes to qualify for the national championships. The world gymnastics championships are then scheduled to take place between September 30 and October 8 in Antwerp, Belgium.
A sellout crowd on Saturday flocked to Hoffman Estates, where spectators were eager to not only see Biles’ much-anticipated comeback, but also the likes of returning Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee.
Biles is the most decorated gymnast in US history, winning 32 medals across the Olympics and the world championships. Among her medal haul are four golds at the Olympics and 19 golds at the world championships – the most by any gymnast in history.
Although Biles is registered to compete in all four events this weekend, athletes may decide not to compete on an apparatus at any given time.
After her hiatus, Biles is returning to gymnastics as a celebrated advocate for mental health. Even in the months after the Olympics, she said she was still “scared to do gymnastics,” but recently said on Instagram that she is “twisting again. No worries. All is good.”
She has made few public comments about her return to the sport but did express her excitement on social media last month, writing: “Sorry I’ve been a little MIA since the announcement. I’m overwhelmed with all of your messages, support & love! excited to get back out on the competition floor!”
At Saturday’s competition, fans came out in full force to show their support for Biles, many proudly displaying her name on T-shirts and homemade signs.
“The courage and the role model to come out and say, ‘no, my mental health is more important, my physical health is more important,’” said fan Stacey Doyle, who was donning a “Simone Freakin’ Biles” shirt. “I’m so proud of her.”
“She’s just resilient and I think within this sport and all sports, sometimes athletes have to push themselves to limits that aren’t necessary,” said another fan, Contey Smith. “So I think her taking a stand and taking a step back for herself has meant a lot for everyone, especially myself as a mother. I want my kids to do the best that they can, but it should always be fun.”
For those accustomed to seeing Biles dominate competitions with ease, her departure in 2021 was an unexpected move. But for some more familiar with the intense physical and psychological demands of the sport, Biles’ decision to opt out of competition was more unprecedented than it was surprising.
“(Biles’ departure) was shocking in that nobody else had ever in gymnastics stood up and said ‘Enough. Right now, this is enough, and I need to take care of myself no matter what everybody wants from me on the biggest stage on the planet,’” sports journalist and author Joan Ryan told CNN Sport.
Fans and fellow athletes alike are excited to witness the gymnastics great back in action and with the opening ceremony of next year’s Olympics less than a year away, what more is to come for the most decorated US gymnast in history?
When asked Saturday about her status about competing at the Paris Olympics in 2024, Biles said things are “heading in the right direction.”
“We’re still in the working steps,” Biles said. “My main goal was this and then championships and then after that we’ll look onto world and then we’ll see, but so far it’s heading in the right direction. But I still have to work on myself, I’m still going to do my therapy, I’m still going to put myself first.”
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Isabel Rosales, Nouran Salahieh, Savanna Stewart and Zoe Sottile contributed to reporting.