Simone Biles, the Golden Queen of Gymnastics

I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps…I’m the first Simone Biles.” – Simone Biles

Abelardo Mendes Jr | Flickr

You can’t talk about gymnastics without mentioning Simone Biles. At just 24 years old, the young woman has already made history. Known for her gymnastics skills and gravity-defying performances, the Afro-American girl dominates the world of gymnastics. Her record-breaking achievements, countless medals, and numerous awards made her a legendary athlete. Simone Biles has been widely dubbed “GOAT” — the “Greatest Of All Time.” Since the beginning of her career, the superstar gymnast has changed the sport forever in so many ways.

Simone Biles was born in 1997 in Ohio, USA, as the third of four children. Both of her parents struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. As a toddler, Simone Biles was placed in foster care as child services determined her biological mother was unfit to care for her and her three siblings. Their father had abandoned the family early on. When Simone Biles was five years old, she and her younger sister were adopted and raised by their grandparents. “My road to success began the day my grandfather and his wife officially adopted my sister and me,” Simone Biles stated. Shortly after she was adopted, at the age of six, she tried gymnastics for the first time while on a daycare field trip. The girl started life from an at-risk beginning to become a legendary gymnast.

Fernando Frazão, Agência Brasil Fotografias | Wikimedia Commons

Gymnastics is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and training to master each skill and apparatus – 4 for women: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. Becoming an elite gymnast involves a lot of strength training, endurance training, and gymnastics. Despite her tiny stature being an advantage to perform gymnastics, she works hard at whatever she does. Simone Biles trains twice a day for a total of six hours five times per week and follows a strict diet.

Since her first enrollment in an international competition in 2013, Simone Biles has kept on rewriting world gymnastics record books. As her nickname of the GOAT might suggest, Simone is the “first” in many categories.

  • She is the most decorated gymnast of all time in the history with a combined total of 36 Olympic and World Championships medals – 27 of them being gold;
  • During her first Olympics in 2016, she lightened up the competition by winning individual gold medals in the all-around, vault, and floor; bronze on balance beam; and gold as part of the United States team, making her the only female gymnast to have won four gold medals in a single Olympics;
  • The 1.42-meter-tall American gymnast is also the first woman to have won five world all-around championships, including one while in pain from a kidney stone;
  • She is also probably the only American athlete to have won the national championships with broken toes in both feet.

There have been some memorable gymnasts to have captured gold medals, but Simone Biles holds the record for the most gymnastics titles ever captured by a single athlete in the history of the sport.

Fernando Frazão, Agência Brasil | Wikimedia Commons

Simone Biles mostly became famous for demonstrating a different way to win. She combines feats of unprecedented complexity with flawless execution. The 24-year-old phenom made history by nailing incredibly difficult gymnastics moves such as the Yurchenko double pike vault, a complex and mind-blowing move traditionally performed only by men. “I look back at videos and wonder how I did that. I sometimes wish I could have an out-of-body experience to witness it,” she stated. She also has four gymnastics elements bearing her name – in the floor, beam, and vault events – for being the only gymnast capable of performing them; this right is only granted to gymnasts performing a unique skill successfully at a major competition. Simone Biles constantly pushes the limits when performing elements that other gymnasts could only dream of landing.

In July 2021, the superstar gymnast was expected to make headlines at the Tokyo Olympics. Simone Biles entered the competition with the world watching. She did leave an indelible mark on the Games, but not by rewriting the Olympic record book as planned. Simone Biles withdrew midway through the gymnastics team final. The 24-year-old gymnast experienced the “twisties” – a mental phenomenon, often triggered by stress, causing disorientation midair while performing a twist – that resulted in a vault not performing as well as expected. In the days following the team final, she withdrew from event after event. Simone Biles admitted having shouldered a huge burden of expectations and tremendous pressure at the Olympics: “I truly do feel that I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.” In 2016, the gymnast dealt with the public’s disappointment for earning a bronze medal in the beam balance final instead of the gold medal everyone expected her to win. By withdrawing, she did something no other gymnast had done before: to focus on herself and highlight the importance of mental health for athletes. “We’re not just entertainment; we’re humans too,” she stated.

The magnitude of her influence goes well beyond gymnastics. In 2018, Simone Biles shared on social media that she was among the hundreds of athletes who said they were sexually abused by Larry Nassar – the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor. She wants to use her influence to be an outspoken advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, foster children as well as people who have gone through mental health issues. “Being a voice, that’s something people always remember besides the medals. How good a person were you whenever you were an athlete. Your character,” she stated. Simone Biles is hailed as an inspiration for many women, particularly black women, because of her perseverance despite a difficult journey.

Lucile Guéguen


Sources:
New York Times : Simone Biles just demonstrated a true champion mind-set
The Bridge: Simone Biles is one of the greatest gymnasts ever. But how does she train?
The gentlewoman: Simone Biles back-flipping, gold-winning, ever-smiling

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