Whenever Simone Biles takes the competition floor, she’s setting out for some kind of history. But it’s what’s in her own past that’s motivating at this week’s world championships, her first international meet since bagging four gold medals at the Rio Olympics.
“I’ve never medaled in a bar final [uneven bars], but I’ve only been in one,” Biles said last week when asked the event she would most like to win aside from the team competition. “Maybe if I could make a bar final, that would be pretty cool because I think of all the medals you can get and the finals you can participate in, I always admire the bar workers just because it’s so hard mentally and physically.”
Biles’ U.S. team is an overwhelming favorite to earn a sixth straight Olympic or world title in Doha — the longest female run of dominance in the sport since the 1970s Soviet teams.
She’s just as expected to grab a fourth world all-around crown, breaking a tie with Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. (Worlds were not held as often in the era of legends Larisa Latynina, Vera Caslavska and Nadia Comaneci.)
Men’s qualifying starts Thursday. The U.S. women’s qualifying session is Saturday. The women’s team final is next Tuesday, followed by the all-around two days later and individual apparatus finals the two days after that.
Biles is the lone member of the U.S. women’s team of six (one will be named an alternate) who has competed at an Olympics or in a world championships team competition.
That doesn’t mean they’re not decorated.
Morgan Hurd won the world all-around title in Biles’ year off in 2017 (when there was no team event). Ragan Smith was favored over Hurd for last year’s gold before tearing ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault minutes before introductions. Riley McCusker made the U.S. all-around podium the last two years.
But of Rio’s Final Five, only Biles has competed on the elite level since the Games.
“We have a different group of girls,” Biles said. “They’re all upcoming and trying to make a name for themselves. … Here I am a veteran.”
Most of Biles’ teammates speak of her in awe.
“Just watching her compete is inspiring,” said Kara Eaker, a balance beam star who was 10 years old when Biles won her first world title in 2013.
What else Biles can do next week in Doha: with three gold medals, pass Vitaly Scherbo‘s 12 for the most in worlds history. Have a vault named after her, if she becomes the first woman to perform the Cheng with an extra half twist. Biles stuck it at the world team selection camp two weeks ago.
“It’s shocking, actually, how easily she does some of these moves,” said Tom Forster, in his first year as U.S. high-performance team director. Forster was asked last week about which five gymnasts of the six were going to compete for the U.S. “I know you’re not going to be surprised by this, but definitely going to use Simone,” was his lone concrete statement.
“She’s really the epitome of what coaches talk about in every sport, an athlete that’s very focused, works really hard, has natural ability and has good technique,” Forster continued. “It’s uncommon to get all those attributes together in one person in any sport. When you do, you get Simone.”
The lone apparatus that Biles has not conquered internationally is the uneven bars. In 2014, Biles said all she wanted for Christmas was to become a good bars worker. During her year off, she dreamed that she went back to the gym and couldn’t do a single giant swing on the apparatus.
Biles has made one uneven bars final at worlds — placing fourth in 2013 — and was 14th in Rio.
When Biles returned to training less than a year ago, her new coach, Laurent Landi, was best known for guiding a bars specialist — Olympic silver medalist Madison Kocian. In her comeback this summer, Biles brought her most difficult bars set yet and won her first national title on the apparatus.
“Never thought at this point in my career I would be most confident on bars,” she tweeted last month.
Biles snapchatted from Doha on Friday the first page of a book’s third chapter titled, “You are not Special.” Read into that what you will. An excerpt:
“Cultivating the mind through learning from failures is more effective than making yourself feel special even for the most trivial things. … High self-esteem is displayed in recognizing your weaknesses and striving to overcome them.”
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