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Armour: Simone Biles is an Athlete for the Ages

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Photo: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

By Nancy Armour |

Simone Biles is human, after all.

Like the rest of America, Biles wanted to get another look at her historic triple twisting-double somersault pass on floor exercise, and she didn’t really want to wait another two hours to do it. So with time to kill until the rest of the rotation was complete, she dug her phone out of her gym bag, went on Twitter and found NBC’s video of it.

And then she retweeted it.

“I didn’t want to be the last person to see it!” Biles said, laughing.

“I just made sure I landed it OK,” she added. “I wanted to see how it looked.”

There is where her mere mortality ends, however.

It is easy to lose sight of just how spectacular Biles is, because she routinely does what was once considered impossible — and not that long ago, at that. When she came back to gymnastics after taking a year off following the Rio Olympics, it wasn’t for more titles or medals. It was because she wanted to push herself, to see just how much she could wring out of her considerable talents, and she’s done that.

Repeatedly.

But then there are nights like Sunday, when she does something so amazing, so awe-inspiring, that you are reminded we are watching greatness before our eyes.

And not greatness in the way that’s tossed around for every above-average athlete. True greatness that people will remember decades from now, recalling the details as if it happened only a year or two ago. Think Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle, Michael Jordan’s flu game, Serena Williams’ win at the Australian Open when she was pregnant or Michael Phelps’ out-touching Milorad Cavic to win his seventh gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

The triple-double is so difficult no other woman has ever done it, and few men even try it. Yet Biles got so much height Sunday the folks in the first half-dozen rows had to crane their necks to see her. The NBC replay showed she was actually above its boom camera, which means someone could have parked an SUV on the floor and Biles would have cleared it easily.

Take that, NBA Dunk Contest participants.

“You can tell from the crowd’s reaction when her name is mentioned. She’s such a draw,” said Tom Forster, the women’s national team coordinator. “Our sport hasn’t had one person, really, in that iconic role in a really long time.”

What makes it all the better is that Biles doesn’t fully appreciate just how big a deal she is.

Oh, sure. She recognizes there is a “Simone division,” as Aly Raisman coined it, and one for everybody else. How could she not? Biles has won every meet she’s entered since the 2013 national championships, often by large margins. She was almost five points ahead of second-place Sunisa Lee on Sunday night, a gap comparable to those non-conference routs by the SEC’s football powerhouses.

Biles won five medals at the Rio Olympics, four of them gold, and has more world titles than any other gymnast, male or female.

But in Biles’ mind, as a gymnast, she’s a small fish in the sports world’s big pond. Told that Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in Alpine skiing, had retweeted the video of the triple-double with a crown emoji, Biles’ eyes widened.

“Whenever they retweet it or I see they reach out on Instagram, I feel like my heart stops because I’m like, ‘Wow, they actually notice me,’ ” she said.

Game recognizes game, as the saying goes, and there is an argument to be made that Biles is the best athlete in the world right now. Yes, better than Shiffrin, better than Williams, better than LeBron James, better than — you get the picture.

Every time she takes the floor, she changes her sport. Dazzling as her triple-double was, it wasn’t her only first this weekend. On Friday, she did a double-twisting, double somersault off balance beam. When coach Laurent Landi was asked if she would be bringing back “the Biles,” he grinned and asked, “Which one?”

Skills are named for the first gymnast who competes them at a world championships or an Olympics. Biles has so many, she’s lost count of them.

(For the record, the question to Landi was about her signature vault.)

“She’s crazy good,” Lee said. “She does stuff that I never thought people could do.”

To be clear, most people can’t. But Biles isn’t most people. She’s a special athlete who does spectacular things. Appreciate her singular greatness while you can because it won’t last forever, and we won’t see anyone like her again.

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.

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