Now, Simone Biles gets a chance to go out and do her thing — which she does better than any gymnast on the planet.
The three-time World all-around champion makes her 2016 debut on Saturday at the Pacific Rim Championships (NBC Sports Live Extra, 10 p.m.-midnight ET), a team competition in reality but a showcase for Biles in spirit and — she hopes — a springboard to Olympic gold.
Not that she wants to talk about it or anything.
“It stresses me out thinking about the Olympics, so why stress yourself out?” Biles said. “I just think of what’s next to come.”
This weekend includes unveiling a new floor routine and an upgraded second vault designed to make it that much harder for the rest of the world to catch her in Rio de Janeiro in August. Of course, Biles demurs when asked to discuss her chances of making history in Brazil. Last she checked, the U.S. team won’t be named for another three months, and she’s not taking anything for granted no matter how high she soars.
Imagine Usain Bolt saying that.
And in a very real sense the relentlessly dynamic teenager from the Houston suburbs has spent the quadrennium since the London Games serving as her sport’s version of Bolt, collecting a record 14 World Championships medals and doing it using a formula that seems borderline unfair. Biles doesn’t just put together the hardest routines. She executes them better than contemporaries doing challenging but slightly less difficult sets.
“I think she needs to compete with the men to make it fair,” 1984 Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton said.
Retton is kidding, but only a little. Biles doesn’t just win, she typically dominates. There have been few close calls during a winning streak that started with her first national championship in 2013 and she heads to floor of the XFINITY Arena in Everett, Wash., rested after a five-month break, part of a carefully calibrated plan for 2016 that will — barring injury — have Biles peaking by mid-summer.
Of course, Biles has been peaking for the better part of three years. It’s an incomparable run of success in a sport where windows of greatness are typically limited to months.
“I don’t think there’s anyone close,” Retton said.
Yet Biles refuses to play it safe. There’s a competitive restlessness to her that demands coach Aimee Boorman and national team coordinator Martha Karolyi find ways to keep her engaged. It’s why she’s debuting her third different floor routine in three years this weekend while throwing in a new secondary vault to go with an Amanar that is right there with two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney in “OMG” factor.
Named after three-time World champion Cheng Fei of China, the vault requires Biles to do a round off onto the board followed by a back handspring with a half-twist onto the vault before finishing with 1 1/2 twists while simultaneously doing a layout.
Sounds kind of impossible. Biles stressed she’s landed it “every single time” over the last few months but is curious to see how it will play under the lights, concerned about how far she’ll be bent over when she lands.
If the way drilled it during practice on Wednesday — powering down the runway and effortlessly twisting through the air — is any indication, she should be just fine.
If anything, getting back to competition will give her a sense of normalcy. She’s spent the downtime since her triumphant two weeks in Scotland last fall trying to find a balance between preparing for Rio, fulfilling sponsor obligations and trying to make time for herself.
Chasing gold while taking time to still be 19 can be tough, but it does have its perks. Her deal with Coke includes a stack of cases that combined would tower over her 4-foot-9 frame.
After another fistful of medals at worlds, Ellen DeGeneres finally called and asked Biles to stop by, an invitation Biles coveted for years. The spot included the two chatting about Biles’ 32-hour-a-week training, her crush on actor Zac Efron (with DeGeneres offering her an Efron-inspired leotard) and footage of Biles climbing up a 30-foot rope using only her arms with a speed that would make the most ardent Crossfitter blush. She finished it off with a watered down exhibition on the balance beam, the equivalent of LeBron James in a layup-line.
On Saturday night, however, it’s back to the one place she feels most at ease even as the spotlight grows brighter by the day.
“There’s a lot more eyes on me, but I don’t focus on the stress everyone puts on me,” she said. “I’m the only one that can control what happens when I go out there. I feel more confident in my routines, but there are always days in the gym where it’s a mess and I’m like really? But other days go smoothly and I feel confident. I’m normal. I’m 19.”