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All Eyes Will Be On Simone Biles In Tokyo And For Good Reason

by Chrös McDougall

Simone Biles poses for a photo on June 27, 2021 in St. Louis. 


The bedazzled goat that adorned Simone Biles’ leotard this spring has been given some time off.
“Goldie was something that we did for just whenever I represent my home gym,” the gymnast confirmed. “So it didn’t make an appearance at trials, and it wont make an appearance at the Olympics.”

Nonetheless, the superlative that goat represents — Greatest Of All Time — will shadow her every move when the Olympics begin July 23 in Tokyo.

Biles, the 24-year-old from Spring, Texas, was one of the biggest stars at the Rio Games, where she won four gold medals and a bronze. Now with Olympic mainstays Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt having retired, she is the singular biggest star going into this year’s Games.

History is within her reach around seemingly every corner.
Another all-around gold medal on July 29 would make her the first woman in a half century to successfully defend that title — Vera Caslavska, of Czechoslovakia, was the last, having done so in 1964 and ’68.
Three more gold medals in Tokyo would tie Biles with Caslavska for second all-time among women’s gymnasts, while five golds would put the Texan even with Larisa Latynina for the most of all time — and in one fewer Olympics than the former Soviet star.
And four more medals of any color would make Biles the most decorated gymnast, male or female, at global championship events, which include the Olympics and the world championships that take place each year in between. 

If this all sounds like hype, that’s because she’s earned it.
As dominant as Biles was at her Olympic debut in Rio, she’s consistently backed it up at the world championships.
She already became the first woman to win three world all-around titles — and then added two more.

Her world championships medal count is now up to 19 gold and 25 total — eclipsing the records of 23 and 12 held by Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo, despite women having two fewer medal events each year.

And Biles has done it all with remarkable consistency. In six global championships since 2013, she’s won all six times in the all-around and floor exercise, and three times each on balance beam and vault. Every time there’s been a team competition, she’s won that too.
Remarkably, at the 2018 world championships Biles not only made the finals across every event, but she won a medal in all six finals too.

The goat really is not a joke.
Biles goes into Tokyo as the overwhelming favorite to win gold medals in the team, all-around, floor and vault competitions. She’ll be favored to at least medal on beam, and even a bars medal is a possibility on the right day.
To simply count Biles’ medals is to not fully appreciate her greatness, though.
Biles is not just supremely gifted athletically, she’s also as technically proficient as perhaps anyone in the sport’s history. Put those two qualities together and she’s rewriting what’s possible.

When performing, Biles is one of those athletes who is noticeably different from the rest. Her sharpness, her vigor, her body control, her confidence — the gymnast simply has a presence that makes her stand out, even against elite competition.

This is most evident in the things that only Biles can do.
Perhaps her most famous skill is the triple twisting, double backflip she performs on floor — known as the triple-double. No woman had performed it before Biles did in 2019, and two years later still no other woman has done it in competition, while Biles makes the impossibly high-flying, dizzying skill look almost routine.

In the gymnastics code of points, a skill is named after the person who first performs it at a major competition.

That triple-double took Biles’ name after she performed it at the 2019 world championships.

The double layout half out Biles performs in her second tumbling pass also carries her name. So does her Yurchenko half on with two twists vault, and the double-double dismount on balance beam.
If all goes as planned, she’ll leave Tokyo with a fifth eponymous skill.

At the U.S. Classic in May, Biles debuted a Yurchenko double pike vault that only a small group of male gymnasts has ever performed. Though she elected to do safer vaults at the U.S. championships and Olympic trials that followed — the two vaults she performed, called the Amanar and Cheng, are the two standard bearers for difficulty in women’s vault — she’s said she’ll go for the Yurchenko double pike in Tokyo.

In fact, Biles’ abilities remain so far ahead of the sport that many — including Biles — have accused the International Gymnastics Federation of undervaluing them. In one instance, with her beam dismount, the FIG even said it was devaluing the skill to discourage other, less capable gymnasts from even attempting it, lest they fall short and hurt themselves. (In a nutshell, the Biles camp says that explanation is bunk, and that more representative execution scores would be a better way to discourage gymnasts from trying skills they’re not consistently capable of hitting.)

It’s a situation that’s both frustrated and exasperating, and one Biles has determined isn’t worth losing sleep over anymore. Even if the scoring logic falls short, Biles said she still plans to attempt the Yurchenko double pike in Tokyo.
“You have to pick and choose your battles,” she said after trials. “I don’t think this is one that we’re going to pick and choose, because at the end of the day sometimes it might not be worth it. Of course we want it to be a higher value, but it’s not like it’s going to be. So what are you doing to do?”

At this point, Biles just wants to get on with it. The journey to her second Olympics has been a long one. She revealed she had been sexually abused by the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, and has been open about how difficult it has been to compete on behalf of the organization in the years since. Then the Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As an elite gymnast, now having been at the senior level since 2013, constant injuries are just a fact of life.
There’s also the pressure of knowing that when she competes, everyone is expecting to see the GOAT.

At the Olympic trials last month in St. Louis, Biles uncharacteristically struggled on the final night, falling on beam and making a few other noticeable mistakes throughout. Her wobbles were of little consequence — with her enormous advantage in difficulty, she’d have needed to fall a couple more times to drop to second place.

The performance weighed on her, though. 

“I feel like anything rather than my best will tick me off just because we have a huge crowd and I wanted to give them my best performance,” she said. “It’s what they deserve after COVID and the year that we’ve had. They came out, they paid for trials tickets, I wish that I could have given them a better performance like I did on night one. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

The good news for Biles, and for fans, is that another opportunity is just around the corner.

And on the biggest stage, the GOAT usually delivers.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.