SportsPulse: As we march towards the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, here are three fun facts about one of the United States’ biggest stars, Simone Biles.
STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles has embraced her greatness.
She has cemented herself as the best gymnast of her, and every other generation, surpassing what she did in 2016. And like Serena Williams and the U.S. women’s soccer team, she sees no reason to shy away from it.
That confidence, and her willingness to own all of her emotions, is what she hopes will be her legacy, every bit as much as what she’s done on the floor.
“It’s important to teach our female youth that it’s OK to say, ‘Yes, I am good at this,’ and you don’t hold back,” Biles said Friday in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports the day after winning her fifth all-around title at the world championships. “You only see the men doing it. And they’re praised for it and the women are looked down upon for it. But I feel like it’s good (to do) because once you realize you’re confident and good at it, then you’re even better at what you do.
“It’s not out of cockiness,” she added. “I’ve won five world titles and if I say, ‘I’m the best gymnast there is,’ (the reaction is) ‘Oh, she’s cocky. Look at her now.’ No, the facts are literally on the paper. I think it’s important to teach (young girls) that.”
Williams was one of Biles’ favorite athletes growing up, not only for her dominance but for her willingness to speak out and show emotion. As Biles has gotten older – she’ll be 23 in March – she has been increasingly willing to use the platform that her place in the sport affords her.
She has been a leader in talking about the sexual assault scandal in her sport. USA Gymnastics only stopped holding national team training camps at the Karolyi ranch after Biles announced she didn’t want to go back there, saying for the first time that she, too, had been abused by Larry Nassar.
Her pointed criticism of federation CEO Kerry Perry’s ineptitude, and interim leader Mary Bono’s tone-deafness, hastened both of their departures.
She has continued to hold both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee accountable for their failings.
She’s also been honest about her emotions, the highs and the lows. She ran off the podium laughing and sticking out her tongue after a great uneven bars routine at the national championships in August, and did a mic drop after wrapping up her fifth world title on floor Thursday night.
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She talked of being so nervous she wanted to vomit before team finals, and made no secret of her displeasure with herself after falling the first time she tried her triple-twisting, double somersault pass on floor exercise in competition.
“I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that it’s OK to show real, raw emotion,” Biles said. “You don’t have to be a robot all the time, and you don’t always have to seem happy out there.”
Asked if she realizes the impact that can have, for youngsters in particular to see someone at the top of her game struggling with the same emotions they do, Biles said she does.
That’s why she is willing to do it.
“It also shows kids that it’s OK, if you’re enjoying the moment, to smile, to be happy. If you’re not having a good time, it’s OK, you don’t have to hide that from people,” she said. “Not saying you should scream or punch things. You could probably do that behind the scenes. But if you’re upset, you can show that you’re upset.”
Managing her emotions is sure to take on greater importance in the month’s leading up next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Someone has to fill the void left by the retirements of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, and no athlete has more star power than Biles. Expect to see her everywhere in the lead-up to the Game, and hear about all the medals she will win.
“I try to stay focused on myself and the expectations I have for myself going in. But at times it’s overwhelming,” Biles said, pausing. “I don’t know. Somehow I just manage it.”
This isn’t the position Biles expected to be in when she came back after taking off the year after the Rio Olympics.
She couldn’t imagine being able to top 2016, when she left the Games with five medals, four of them gold. She’d won the world title the three years prior to that, the first woman to win three in a row. And she had a winning streak of three-plus years, an unheard of run of consistency and dominance in a sport often decided by tenths and hundredths of a point.
Yet she has not only topped what she did the last quadrennium, she’s surpassed her former self.
She won her fifth world title by 2.1 points, her largest margin of victory yet at the world championships. Her 22 medals at worlds is only one less than the record by Belarus’ Vitaly Scherbo, and she’ll blow by that this weekend, having qualified for all four event finals.
Oh, she’s also had three new skills named for her in the past year, one each on floor exercise, vault and balance beam.
“Coming back, I was really nervous if I could top my 2016 performances,” Biles said. “Once we started training and putting more skills in, and we competed for the first time, I was like ‘Wow, I think I am better than 2016.’ That’s what blew my mind. Just looking at the differences in the videos.
“Even with my form,” she added. “It’s a little bit cleaner, too, on some of the things because we’ve paid attention to detail there.”
Like Williams, like the U.S. women’s soccer team, Biles is simply in a class by herself.
She was gifted with natural athletic ability, yes. But her technique is flawless, which allows her to do the skills that set her apart – far apart – from everyone else.
Her triple-double in the team final was so huge, fans several rows up had to look up to watch it. That meant she was probably 9 feet in the air. Yet she stuck her landing, her feet not moving an inch.
Her double-twisting, double somersault dismount on balance beam, considered by the International Gymnastics Federation to be so difficult that it watered down its value so other gymnasts wouldn’t try it, is done with more ease than normal people would do a cartwheel.
Biles appreciates the magnitude of what she’s doing, because there are times she herself can’t believe it, either.
“I wish I could have an out-of-body experience to witness it because sometimes I think I’m going crazy,” she said Thursday night. “I really don’t know how I do it sometimes.”
Because she’s the best gymnast there is. And she’s not afraid to own it.