Simone Biles capped off her weekend by shattering even more world records. In doing so she cemented herself as the greatest gymnast of all time, and it’s time to start thinking about the possibility that she’s the greatest athlete of all time.
Biles won gold on the balance beam at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, setting the all-time record for most gold medals won by a gymnast, her 24th. She then returned to the building an hour later and won gold on floor — extending her newly-minted record to a staggering 25.
The thing about Biles’ accomplishments in gymnastics is that they come without caveats. Think about every athlete people discuss in the “greatest ever” conversation, and someone, somewhere will have an excuse. Maybe their era allowed them to succeed, perhaps they compete in an insular sport without much global appeal. There might even be arguments that a team or organization was built around the athlete to showcase their talents.
Then there’s Simone Biles, and all these arguments collapse.
It’s clear Biles isn’t benefiting from when she’s competing. If that was the case then she wouldn’t literally be re-writing the code of points because of maneuvers she’s developed. In addition she’s competed through a time of increased intensity of state-organized gymnastics in China, and state-sponsored doping in Russia.
Gymnastics are global. Perhaps not to the point where every nation is able to compete equally, but at least to the extent that numerous countries (specifically in eastern Europe and China) give their gymnastics programs the utmost attention, resources and training. The world has been trying to knock of Biles for years, and they still can’t.
When it became apparent nobody could beat Biles in the gym we saw forces trying to take her down off it. Coordinated smear and hacking campaigns out of Russia tried to paint her as a cheater in 2016 when it was announced her ADHD medication (which she has a medical waiver for) was added to the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) list of banned substances.
The most-recently, the gymnastics world was floored when her signature beam dismount was added to the code of scoring earlier this month and received a paltry “H” degree of difficulty, when it was clear to those studying the sport that it deserved a higher “I” classification. This resulted in many calling into question how Biles’ elements can be graded when she is literally wrecking the curve.
In Stuttgart Biles stepped out of bounds after a tumbling pass on the floor. It would be enough to damage the medal chances of most gymnasts in the world. Even with the deduction Biles posted a score of 15.133 — a full point better than fellow American Sunisa Lee who took silver.
Perhaps the most astonishing part of all this is that Biles is getting better. It’s unheard of. The tragically brief shelf-life of Olympic gymnasts (particularly women) means their careers tend to taper off when they turn 18. It’s rare for gymnasts to perform at two Olympic Games. At 22 years old Biles is performing more difficult elements than she was at Rio in 2016, and will certainly head to Tokyo in 2020 where she will be the favorite.
Biles is the platonic ideal of a gymnast. An incomparable athlete who continues to dominate her sport to impossible levels. I could write another thousand words on why it’s time to consider Biles the literal greatest of all time, but this chart of all-time medal records by gymnasts says more than those words ever could.
Nobody is better than Simone Biles, and I defy someone to come up with an argument that says otherwise.