NEW YORK — Simone Biles joked before the World Gymnastics Championships all-around final on Friday that she hadn’t seen a single animal in nearly three weeks training and competing in China.
“I haven’t seen a bird fly, or anything,” she said.
She was, of course, attacked by a bee hours later, on the top step of the podium after winning the all-around title a second straight year. That gold was part of a record five-medal haul that consolidated her status as, far and away, the world’s greatest gymnast.
Biles, 17, escaped the flying tormentor, walked off the podium and retreated to a therapy room Friday night.
You know, a team doctor told her, that bee incident will spread like honey. Yeah, yeah, sure, she responded, brushing it off.
“Then it actually started going viral,” said Biles, who is very active on social media. “It blew my mind. Oh my gosh, I’m jumping off a podium, running from a bee.”
Biles hasn’t stopped buzzing.
She won three more medals over the weekend, flew home to Houston on Monday and then to New York on Tuesday.
Her rewards included headphones and an ear piercing (she got her belly button pierced last year), according to The Associated Press, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year award, for her 2013 achievements, in a Wall Street ceremony Wednesday night.
She appeared on “TODAY” on Thursday morning.
Producers from Ellen DeGeneres‘ talk show contacted her parents during that stretch. They’re working on scheduling her appearance.
“My dad told me about it, and I freaked out at the airport,” said Biles, whose legs may not be long enough for her feet to touch the floor in a sitdown interview.
The bee incident generated more response than any of her eye-popping routines last week. Social media followers sent Biles photoshopped pictures of her in a bee costume, or a bee-themed leotard.
Biles is steamrolling toward the Rio Olympics, but she said she needs to improve on balance beam and vault.
She is working on adding eight tenths of difficulty to her second vault, according to the AP, which would match her with the woman who beat her on the event in China, North Korea’s Hong Un-jong. That upgraded vault is a “Cheng,” which Biles has trained for more than a year.
It would also be more difficult than the vaults we’ve seen from McKayla Maroney, the only woman to beat Biles on the event at the 2013 World Championships.
Then there are the uneven bars. That was only apparatus where Biles failed to win a medal at 2013 Worlds — where she finished fourth. Biles was 57th in bars qualifying this year, but she didn’t mind.
“I would rather not compete bars,” Biles said. “Last year, when I made bar finals, I was yelling at the computer, saying, please, somebody bump me out [of the eight-woman field for the bars final], because I didn’t want to touch the bars ever again.”
NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin agreed with fellow Olympic all-around champion Mary Lou Retton that Biles may be the best gymnast she’s ever seen. Liukin, retired since 2012, said she’s happy she’s not competing with her.
Biles must fight a little bit of history to make the Rio Olympics. The top U.S. women’s all-around gymnast at the 2006 World Championships did not make the 2008 Olympics. The top U.S. gymnast at the 2010 World Championships did not make the 2012 Olympics.
But she shouldn’t be as concerned as the rest of the deep U.S. field, such as 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, floor exercise champion Aly Raisman and Maroney. None of that trio competed this year, but all signs point to them trying to compete in 2015. No U.S. woman has made back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000.
Maroney, for one, now faces competition from MyKayla Skinner, who won vault bronze and was fourth on floor exercise at her first World Championships last week. Vault and floor are Maroney’s primary events.
“We haven’t seen these girls compete, but what we do know and what we have seen is Simone out there on the floor and being above and beyond everybody else,” Liukin said. “As of right now, everybody is a factor.”