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Simone Biles stakes her claim on spot for Paris. Who will join her?

HARTFORD, Conn. — So long as she’s healthy, Simone Biles is going to the Paris Olympics.

The obvious was reaffirmed with her big win at the U.S. Classic, where Biles finished almost two points ahead of Shilese Jones, an all-around medalist at the last two world championships. Brought back some of her big skills for the first time since the Tokyo Games, too.

There are four other spots on the U.S. team, however, and performances at Classic gave an indication of who will be joining Biles in Paris.

Here’s a look at the contenders, with the national championships and Olympic trials still to come:

Locks

Shilese Jones. She’s a close second to Biles as far as gimmes. Jones has established herself as one of the world’s best gymnasts the last two seasons, winning the silver medal behind Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade at the 2022 worlds and claiming the bronze behind Biles and Andrade last year.

Selecting a team isn’t as easy as picking the top five all-arounders. While teams compete four of their five gymnasts on each event in qualifying and get to drop the lowest score, they compete three gymnasts in the finals and have to count every score. One fall and the gold could be gone. Two or three, and you might not get any spot on the medals podium.

Having gymnasts who are consistent is important. But so is having a team that can put up big scores across all events. Jones is consistent – her lowest score Saturday was a 14, for a floor routine Jones said is ‘still building’ – and she gives the Americans a monster score on uneven bars. Her 15.25, for a routine she’s upgraded since last season, was the second-highest score of the night, on any event.

‘Just getting that out of the way … is definitely boosting my confidence,’ Jones said.

Almost there

Suni Lee. The reigning Olympic all-around champion had the highest score on balance beam Saturday. While she didn’t compete in uneven bars, her signature event, what she’s shown in training has been impressive and would give the United States three big scores – her, Jones and Biles – on the event.

Lee also expects to upgrade her vault and to clean up her floor routine. This was the first time she’s competed floor in more than a year, since a kidney ailment derailed her final season at Auburn and severely limited her training.

‘It was really important for me to go out there and fight those demons, compete a floor routine,’ Lee said. ‘It’s been a while. Obviously not the routine that I want for the upcoming competitions but I really just wanted to get out there and compete again.’

Lee and coach Jess Graba are confident she’ll be ready to do the all-around at the national championships, which are May 30 through June 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. If she does, she gives the Americans a third formidable all-arounder, something few other countries can match.

‘It’s going to come down to bars and beam for me,’ she said. ‘… I’m hungrier to be able to be in the all-around. That’s been the main priority but we all know, I’m the strongest on those two.’

Jade Carey. The Americans need another big vault score, and Carey would provide that. She’s also strong on floor, where she’s the reigning Olympic champion. Carey was fifth on floor Saturday night, but remember this was her first competition after doing NCAA at Oregon State, and her routine is likely to look different by the Olympic trials next month.

Making a case

Jordan Chiles. The Tokyo Olympian also just wrapped up the NCAA season, at UCLA, but made a case for herself with a solid performance on all four events. Chiles might not give the United States a massive score on any one event, but she doesn’t leave any holes, either.

‘I think realizing that I had the potential,’ Chiles said of the difference between this season and last, when she struggled with the transition from NCAA to elite.

‘A lot of the time, you say you want to do something and you never know what’s going to happen, because there’s a lot of eyes on you and expectations,’ Chiles added. ‘When you put that aside, you realize, ‘I’m going to just step forward into it and be the person I need to be and put every effort I need into each and every practice.”

Kaliya Lincoln. Remember what I said about needing three strong scores on every event? Her 14 on floor exercise tied with Jones for second-highest on the event. The combination of Biles, Jones, Lee and Carey covers vault, bars and beam, and Lincoln would give the Americans options on floor exercise.

Keep your eye on

Tiana Sumanasekera and Leanne Wong. They might not have been spectacular, but they were solid and look to have room to improve. If anyone above them slips up, they could be right there to fill the spot. Or claim one of the alternate spots.

Now, this is not to say other gymnasts can’t still make a case for themselves. There are still two meets to go before the Olympic team is announced, after all. But Classic is the meet where people begin to separate themselves, and this one was no different.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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