Simone Biles is a clear favorite of 12 celebrities on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars,” starting Monday, to lift the Mirrorball Trophy later this spring.
All four Olympic gymnasts who have competed in the ABC show’s 23-season history have finished in the top four.
Two were crowned champions — Shawn Johnson in 2009 and Laurie Hernandez just last year. Johnson and Hernandez, as teens, were the youngest champions in show history.
But there are factors working against Biles.
Biles, who turned 20 years old on Tuesday, is paired with Russian-born Australian professional dancer Sasha Farber, who has never made the top four in four show appearances.
Biles also admits her lack of dance experience. The Texan emphasized that she never danced with a man before Farber (though she did get pretty close with singer Jake Miller in a music video last year).
Early training for the show has not been kind to the 4-foot-9 Biles’ feet.
“I want to learn how to dance,” Biles said after being announced as a cast member March 1. “I’m so nervous, because you have to get out of your comfort zone.”
In competing, Biles knows little else than winning. She hasn’t been beaten in an all-around competition in nearly four years. But Farber doesn’t want to make this contest about results.
“We set one goal, and that’s to make sure we have a good time,” he said.
Olympians as a whole tend to perform well on the show — see winners Apolo Anton Ohno, Kristi Yamaguchi and Meryl Davis.
And Biles is not the only Olympian competing this season.
Enter Nancy Kerrigan, the 1992 and 1994 Olympic medalist best known for being attacked by a man hired by rival Tonya Harding‘s ex-husband at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Kerrigan has largely been out of the public eye in the last 20 years — she said she preferred it that way — making her inclusion on “Dancing with the Stars” a shock.
All previous figure skaters on the show finished in the top five (save Dorothy Hamill, who withdrew during season 16 in 2003 due to a back injury).
But Kerrigan is 47, more than 10 years older than the previous figure skaters to finish so high. Only two celebrities older than Kerrigan have won the Mirrorball Trophy — actors Donny Osmond and Jennifer Grey.
Like Biles, Kerrigan expressed nervousness.
“Because of skating, it’s prepared [me] in that I know how to move my body,” said Kerrigan, a mother of three paired with Russian-born Artem Chigvintsev. “Not necessarily in the ballroom, because the positions and things are very different, but I can follow direction and, as an athlete, have been told what to do my whole life. And then do it. As a skater, we perform to music. That may help me to feel the music.”
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A list of Olympians (and one Paralympian) to compete on Dancing with the Stars:
Season 1 — Evander Holyfield (1984, boxing)
Season 4 — Apolo Ohno (2002-2010, short track speed skating) — WINNER, Clyde Drexler (1992, basketball)
Season 5 — Floyd Mayweather Jr. (1996, boxing)
Season 6 — Kristi Yamaguchi (1992, figure skating) — WINNER, Monica Seles (1996-2000, tennis)
Season 7 — Maurice Greene (2000-2004, track and field), Misty May-Treanor (2000-2012, volleyball)
Season 8 — Shawn Johnson (2008, gymnastics) — WINNER
Season 9 — Louie Vito (2010, snowboarding), Natalie Coughlin (2004-2012, swimming)
Season 10 — Evan Lysacek (2006-2010, figure skating)
Season 12 — Sugar Ray Leonard (1976, boxing)
Season 13 — Hope Solo (2004-2016, soccer)
Season 14 — Martina Navratilova (2004, tennis)
Season 15 — Shawn Johnson, Apolo Ohno
Season 16 — Dorothy Hamill (1976, figure skating), Aly Raisman (2012-2016, gymnastics)
Season 18 — Meryl Davis (2010-2014, figure skating) — WINNER, Charlie White (2010-2014, figure skating), Amy Purdy (2014, snowboarding)
Season 19 — Lolo Jones (2008, 2012, 2014, track and field/bobsled)
Season 20 — Nastia Liukin (2008, gymnastics)
Season 23 — Laurie Hernandez (2016, gymnastics) — WINNER, Ryan Lochte (2004-2016, swimming)
Season 24 — Simone Biles (2016, gymnastics), Nancy Kerrigan (1992-94, figure skating)