most-decorated-us-gymnast

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Rio 2016: Remember the Name

SIMONE BILES, 19 (Coach: Aimee Boorman)

3-Time World All Around Champion; 10-Time World Champion; 14-Time World Medalist; 3-Time US National All Around Champion; 2016 Pacific Rim All Around Champion; 2015 American Cup Champion

Strengths: vault, floor, beam, difficulty, execution, consistency, charisma

Weaknesses: [footage not found]


How does one even begin to explain Simone Biles? Former champions from Mary Lou Retton to Nadia Comaneci to Nastia Liukin have called her various iterations of the best, most talented, most powerful gymnast they’ve ever seen. Her international competitors admire her as both an athlete and, thanks to her charming, uninhibited personality, a friend. Her teammates and their coaches openly joke that with Simone in the sport second is the new first for everyone else. NBC commentator Tim Dagget likes to call her “the most dominant female athlete in any sport in the world.” Her record speaks for itself. Most decorated US gymnast in World Championships history. Winningest woman in World Championships history. First three-time consecutive World All Around Champion in history. The list goes on. Normal Simone stuff.

Simone flew under the radar as a junior gymnast, never touted by anyone as the Next Big Thing or even expected to be a huge player in the Rio quad. When she was noticed at all, it was for her uncommon power on floor and vault that could, people said, potentially be useful to the team down the line. Upon her senior debut at the 2013 American Cup, she finished second to a much more celebrated new senior, Katelyn Ohashi. By Nationals, it was clear that Simone would definitely be part of the picture of the Rio quad. However, the meet was expected to be the coronation of Kyla Ross, youngest member of the Fierce Five and the only one who had taken no time off from gymnastics after the Olympics. Simone upset Ross for the US national all around title and put her foot forward as the favorite for the all around title at the 2013 World Championships. At those championships, she qualified to every final, medaled in all but one, and took home her first two World golds: all around and floor exercise.

It was an incredible showing, as good or better, than any gymnast had done in recent memory, but gymnasts who start out on top at the beginning of a quad rarely maintain that position by the time the Olympics roll around. It’s a long, hard slog that favors those whose birthdays mean they’ll have to endure fewer years of senior competition before the big show. As a testament to that, Simone was sidelined for the first half of 2014 by a nagging shoulder injury. She withdrew from multiple spring competitions, the injury forcing her not to compete until late summer. Once late summer came, it was immediately clear that, despite her dominant performance the year before, Simone had gotten better.

She took her second US National All Around Championship by an enormous margin. At World Championships she qualified in first place to four out of the five individual finals. Normal Simone stuff. She was only just pipped for vault gold despite a huge difficulty disadvantage, repeated as all around and floor champion, and won beam as well. In 2015, once more impossibly better, she did it all again, this time despite the return to competition of Olympic Champions, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.

This year, Simone started her season late, given special dispensation to do so by Martha Karolyi. A nigh unheard of privilege, but one that only makes sense. I’ve given an abbreviated summary of Simone’s accomplishments this quad, but that can’t really capture the magnitude of her ability. Simone hasn’t lost a competition since the beginning of her first senior season. In a sport that is still decided by tenths and hundredths she routinely wins by full integers. At 2015 World Championships, the score of the gymnast who qualified in second place was closer to that of the gymnast who was in 42nd place than it was to Simone in first. She has more difficulty than anyone else in the world and she consistently tops everyone in execution as well. She does it all so effortlessly that it’s clear she’s not even pushing herself to her limit. She is quite simply on a completely different level than everyone else.

Later entries in this series will discuss chances to make the Rio team, potential contributions, etc. With Simone that isn’t necessary. She’s on the team. The team is built around her. She will do every event in team finals with the possible exception of uneven bars, not because her uneven bars aren’t team finals worthy, they certainly are, but just to give her a break. The only thing she needs to do is stay healthy and every single person in the gymnastics world knows it. Once Rio actually comes around? Well, she’s the outstanding favorite for five out of the six gold medals on offer and she doesn’t even have to be great, for her, to get them. What does she need to do to take them home? Just normal Simone stuff.

VAULT 1 | VAULT 2 | UNEVEN BARS | BALANCE BEAM | FLOOR EXERCISE

BONUS: SIMONE VS THE BEE

Black Excellence in Gymnastics: Dominique Dawes

With one of the longest careers in USAG history, it’s no surprise that Dominique Dawes is one of the most decorated US gymnasts to ever compete. She medaled at every US Nationals from her senior debut in 1991 through 1996, including an historic sweep of all five golds awarded at the event in 1994. Internationally, she represented the US at four World Championships, medaling at three of them, and at three Olympic games- 1992, 1996 and 2000, resulting in three team medals (bronze, gold, bronze) and an individual floor bronze. Her gymnastics is memorable for its creativity and energy, with such skills as back-to-back connected tumbling passes and a sky-high Hindorff wowing audiences worldwide.