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by Dvora Meyers for Slate
Last week in Nanning, China, Simone Biles won four world championship gold medals, locking down the team championship, the individual all-around title, and the beam and floor exercise apparatus finals. (She also came very close to a fifth on vault, taking the silver.) Biles has now won more world championship gold medals than any other U.S. gymnast (she has six including last year’s haul, putting her ahead of Shannon Miller) and won more golds than any female gymnast at a single world championships since Ludmilla Tourischeva in 1974. These accomplishments would cap off many a gymnastics career, but with two years to go until the Rio Olympics, the 17-year-old Texan seems to be just getting started.
In China, the loudest cheers during the women’s competitions were for the hometown girls (naturally) and Biles. While the former demands no explanation, Biles was a fan favorite due to the sheer difficulty and amplitude of her skills. On vault, she launches higher and flips farther than any other gymnast (save perhaps McKayla Maroney, who was back in the States recovering from knee surgery). On beam, she attacks her skills with vigor, especially her dismount series. She does a much harder pass than any other gymnast on that event—two back flips to a full twisting double back—and does it as well as it has ever been done. Biles uses the end of the beam as a launch pad, lifting off into the somersaults. It’s such a hard dismount that you could be forgiven for doing it with poor form—with knees pulled apart the way that Dominique Dawes performed the series in the mid-1990s—but even on the hardest acrobatics, Biles keeps tight form and shape.
And floor. Not only does Biles do four of the hardest passes in the women’s competition, she does it with the sort of ease that suggests the potential for more—more twists, more rotations. She doesn’t take more than a few running steps into her double twisting double somersault and yet it flies up high. She completes her flips and twists well before she lands, dropping out of the sky with her chest up, sometimes with a small bound backward. Her power cup runneth over, as you can see in a video from this August.
Biles is such an exceptional gymnast with such prodigious talent that discussion of her accomplishments and abilities is often decontextualized from the competition. And in a sense, that is fair. She does not have a direct challenger at the moment. Biles can’t be beaten by any other gymnast unless she first beats herself, or gets injured. She is seemingly above the fray.
But Biles’ success comes at a moment when the U.S. program’s overall dominance also seems inevitable, and the women’s field is less competitive than ever. This year, the Americans won the team competition by 6.7 points, which is a far cry from the 0.1 winning margin for the Chinese men over Japan. On the men’s side, the medals were spread out among several countries, including places like Croatia and Hungary. With regards to the women, all of the medals save one were won by the four traditional powers—the U.S., China, Russia, and Romania.
Photo Credit: Lintao Zhang for Getty Images Sport
Simone Biles was not even born when Shannon Miller was winning all of her world and Olympic medals.
But Biles, born in 1997, shortly after Miller collected her gold medals as part of the “Magnificent Seven” at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and about two years after Miller won the last of her nine world medals, needed no history lesson to understand what it means to be passing her in the record books.
By winning two gold medals on the final day of the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Nanning, China, Biles now has six career gold medals from worlds, giving her the most of any U.S. woman — one more than Miller.
“I just heard that,” Biles told reporters in China, “and it actually blows my mind.”
With her gold-medal performances on the final day of competition on the balance beam and floor, Biles closed these worlds with four gold medals. She led Team USA to the gold medal in the team event and became the first American woman since Miller to win back-to-back all-around world titles. Biles, 17, also earned a silver medal in the vault final.
Throughout the week, Biles has performed incredibly powerful tumbling routines but seemingly coasted past her talented international opponents, mainly Romania’s Larisa Iordache. The only time Biles looked remotely beatable was when a bee came after the flowers she was carrying while standing on top of the all-around medal podium.
In just two trips to worlds, including last year in Antwerp, Biles has collected nine medals. Only Alicia Sacramone, who won 10 world medals in her career, has won more among U.S. women. Miller and Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic champion, finished their careers with nine.
Biles is also the first U.S. woman to win five medals at a single world championships.
Biles finished these worlds by sticking a full-in dismount on the balance beam and scoring a 15.100, and defending her world title on the floor (15.333), an event in which she has dazzled the crowd all week with her ability to combine explosiveness and expression.
Watch all of Simone’s routines from the Women’s All-Around final.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong