Is it possible to be the "greatest of all time" when you haven’t even won an Olympic medal?
If you’re Simone Biles, the answer is yes.
In 2015, the 19-year-old Biles of Spring, Texas, shattered Team USA’s "most world medals" record with 14 to Alicia Sacramone’s 10, a feat it took Sacramone seven years to achieve. Biles broke it in three. Ten of these medals are gold (the most gold medals awarded in world championships history), and three of these golds are all-around titles, making her undefeated on the global stage this quad.
As a junior, Biles was relatively unknown within the sport, finally making the national team at 15 alongside girls who had been competing internationally since age 12. But as a "late bloomer," Biles had the chance to grow into her adult body before throwing big skills. The upgrades came the second she reached the senior ranks in 2013, and though she was a bit shaky to start, she soon found her footing. In less than a year she catapulted from unknown junior to superstar on the international scene.
Biles has dominated ever since, and now has the potential to win the most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Olympic Games (four gymnasts hold the record at four golds, with Ecaterina Szabo the last to do it while competing for Romania in 1984). With the team and all-around golds pretty much in the bag, Biles’ focus in event finals will be on vault, beam and floor. With her combination of difficulty, execution, and consistency on all three, it’ll be hard for others to challenge on any unless she makes a mistake.
And Biles isn’t immune to mistakes. She actually fell on beam on the second day of the Olympic Trials in San Jose last weekend, though brushed it off as a fluke. "Even the best in the world fall," she shrugged after the meet. "I’m human."
That's hard to remember when Biles makes landing double doubles and Amanars look as easy as walking. What sets her apart is not that she can do these gravity-defying feats, but rather that she does them close to perfectly and with a smile on her face covering up the effort. You'd almost forget she’s just a normal kid who loves Zac Efron and Snapchat as much as the next teenager.
Below the surface, though, she’s working. Hard. Like every other gymnast competing, Biles is fighting to reach perfect handstands on bars, to stick her landings on floor, and to eliminate any wobbles or hesitations from her beam routine, which is where she’s looked the most "human" this summer. With the fall at trials and a wobbly set two weeks earlier at nationals, Biles was noticeably frustrated.
"That was like the worst routine all week," she moaned to coach Aimee Boorman at nationals. At that point, her final routine of the two-day competition, the all-around title would go to Biles for the fourth year in a row, and by a cushiony margin of four points (the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl by six touchdowns). "It’s okay," Boorman reassured her. "It’s nooooot," Biles whined. Because anything less than her best is never good enough.
What Biles has going for her this year is that, while she may be human, she is also a fighter, never content to merely get the job done. When she shows up in Rio, it’ll be with her game face on, taking down the competition one by one. Her talent and immense natural gifts got her halfway there, but Biles isn’t content to rest on talent alone. Her work ethic, drive and competitive nature, combined with her talent, create a lethal combination that takes her to the next level.
In Rio, Biles, who has spent her entire career pushing boundaries and breaking records, is looking to make history yet again. Becoming the first woman to win all four world and Olympic all-around titles in a single quad and the first woman to win five gold medals in a single Games, these are realistic goals for Biles in a sport where the majority of the women competing will only hope to make it past prelims.
Simone Biles is one of the best gymnasts the sport has ever seen, and she doesn’t need an Olympic medal to prove it. But when she does win one -- or five -- this summer, she’ll transcend gymnastics stardom to become an Olympic legend.