By Nancy Armour |
Maybe it takes a day like this to fully appreciate Simone Biles’ greatness. Maybe it takes seeing her flaws to realize how spectacular an athlete she really is.
Maybe by seeing her at her worst, we can now agree she is the best — in her and every other sport.
Biles became the first woman to win four all-around titles at the world gymnastics championships Thursday despite falling on vault and balance beam. Her score of 57.491 was 1.693 points ahead of Japan’s Mai Murakami, her largest margin of victory yet at worlds.
That Biles won – and won by that much – is not because her competition is inferior. Rather, it’s because her level of difficulty, the skills she does, are so thoroughly superior.
“She makes it look so easy. But this is as hard as men’s gymnastics what she’s doing on floor and vault,” said Laurent Landi, Biles’ coach. “You need to take this into consideration and appreciate her desire to go this road.
“She has a great ability that she needs to push it to the limit,” Landi added. “And when it goes very well, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t go well, it’s still good enough.”
We are living in a golden age of sport, witness to the likes of Serena Williams, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Yet what Biles is doing is more impressive than all of them.
Their sports do not require them to defy gravity at every turn. Catastrophic injuries for them are a fluke, not the routine risk Biles faces as she flips and twists 10 feet above the ground.
More than that, though, is how the 21-year-old Biles has redefined herself, and her sport.
When she returned from her yearlong layoff after the Rio Olympics, where she won four gold medals, Biles could easily have kept doing what she already knew worked. Her difficulty level on vault and floor exercise alone was enough to give her a head start, and no one was likely to challenge that.
That isn’t what brought Biles back, however. She’d already established herself as the best gymnast of all time, had won the biggest prizes there are. Anything else would just be more of the same.
No, she came back because she wanted to see what she could do. To test her limits and see what her body was capable of. Could she master a vault so difficult some of the top men won’t even try it? Could she add more tricks to a floor routine that already made astronauts dizzy? Could she transform herself on her “worst” event?
“In our sport, I’ve not seen any athlete that takes this much time off and comes back better. I’ve never seen that before,” said Tom Forster, national team coordinator. “So she’s an anomaly for sure — in a really cool way.”
Biles’ routines are so hard that her total difficulty score, 25.4 points, was more than three points better than Murakami’s. That’s why, despite her falls on vault and beam, she took a .092 lead into the fourth and final rotation, floor exercise.
It’s also why, despite knowing she was having an off day, despite knowing she could do the bare minimum and still win, the thought of watering down floor was never a serious consideration.
“I’d still rather go out there and show who I am as a competitor,” Biles said.
She crushed the floor routine, soaring so high on her tumbling passes that fans had to crane their necks to see her. She actually had so much power on the first pass that she put one foot out of bounds to steady herself, but the rest was dazzling.
By the end, Landi was clapping his hands above his head. Biles’ score of 15 was a full point better than Murakami’s, and her 6.6 difficulty score was the highest of the night on any event.
“That defines everything that she is. That’s why she’s the best in the world,” Landi said. “Because otherwise, it’s like you’re in the middle of the pack. You want to differentiate yourself.”
Sure, the number of titles do that. But it’s no longer about the medals or putting her name in the history books. If it was, Biles wouldn’t have described her day as “a bomb” and questioned whether she’d earned this latest crown.
“It’s not the gymnast that I am,” she said. “Even though I won, I wish it were a little bit different. … It just sucks that I did so bad and I still won.”
By pushing herself, by refusing to settle for the status quo, Biles has made the impossible seem ordinary. In doing so, she’s shown herself to be extraordinary.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.