Simone Biles cemented herself as the greatest gymnast of all time with her all-around win in Rio on Thursday.
Undefeated since she placed second behind 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross at a friendly meet in Germany three years ago, 19-year-old Biles has dominated domestic and international competition, becoming a 10-time world champion in just three years. With three straight world all-around titles in a row, her Olympic victory gives her the distinction of being the only woman to win every major international competition in a single Olympic quadrennium, the "grand slam" of gymnastics.
It’s almost becoming difficult to talk about Biles because there simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe her. Always a fall or two ahead of her competition, Biles could sleepwalk through her routines and still win.
But the thing about Biles is that she fights even though she doesn’t really need to. The reason she is so dominant is because she goes after every last 10th even though she doesn’t need to.
Biles won nationals by a four-point margin with eight hit routines over a two-day period, but because her beam on the second day had some uncharacteristic wobbles, Biles wasn’t happy. When she’s not doing her best, it doesn’t matter if she gets gold. There’s always something to fix, always something to work on.
Perfection is what Biles chases, and she came as close to it as ever today. With no major mistakes on any of her four apparatuses, Biles sailed to her win with a score of 62.198, a whopping 2.1 points over silver medalist Aly Raisman. The deduction for a fall in gymnastics is a point, so Biles technically could’ve fallen twice and walked away with gold. Again, domination.
It wasn’t a crushing defeat for Raisman, however. Earlier this year, Raisman said that with Biles around, coming second is basically like winning the meet, and in Rio de Janeiro the biggest battle was for the silver medal.
Up against competitive rival Aliya Mustafina of Russia — whom she tied for third place in London four years ago but then ended up in fourth and off the podium due to a tiebreaker decision — Raisman had unfinished business to take care of, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Though she qualified sixth into the all-around with a fall on beam, Mustafina led her team to an unexpected silver medal on Tuesday, putting up four solid routines to prove just how good she is when she’s on. If anyone could threaten Raisman’s quest, Mustafina was it.
Raisman, 22, took a leave of absence from the sport following the 2012 Olympic Games and then in 2014 made the decision to come back solely to go after the one medal that eluded her in London.
First, however, she had to make the U.S. team, a nearly impossible task given the country’s tremendous depth. The last women to earn spots on back-to-back Olympic teams were Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes, who contributed to the 2000 squad after winning gold four years earlier. All attempts since then have been unsuccessful, including 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin’s own push in 2012.
But Raisman threw herself back into training and, despite a few bumpy performances at world championships last year, showed up this summer looking physically and mentally stronger than she did in her first attempt at 18. She asserted herself as a lock for this Olympic team and defeated reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas in the all-around qualification on Sunday by less than half a point to earn one of the two U.S. berths in the final.
Thursday afternoon, after a large step forward on her vault and laboring through a bars set that’s always been her Achilles’ heel, Raisman was behind Mustafina after the first two rotations, causing some to wonder if she would again come up behind the Russian. She quickly made up ground with some of her best performances ever on both beam and floor, however, sticking her final pass to finish with a bang before bursting into tears.
Raisman knew the silver was hers. Mustafina, who stuck her vault and performed one of her typically flawless bars sets, missed a required element on beam to take a huge hit there before finishing on floor, her weakest event. Going into the final rotation, all Raisman had to do was hit and the silver would be hers. But the 2012 Olympic floor champion isn’t content with "just hitting" and instead gave a tour de force performance that brought the arena to its feet.
In an instant, the past four years spent wondering "if only I hadn’t taken a step here or wobbled there" disappeared. Raisman was officially an Olympic all-around medalist and could spend the final moments of what is likely her last all-around competition cheering on her teammate Biles, who also finished up her day with brilliant work on floor.
For the second time in Olympic history, two U.S. women topped the all-around podium. During the victory ceremony, "The Star-Spangled Banner" officially played for Biles today, but the celebration was as much for Raisman as it was for her GOAT-status teammate.