International superstar Simone Biles returns to the international scene after a two-year hiatus. Everything seemed to be back to normal at the World Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, but Biles 2.0 has certainly changed. On Friday, she won the world all-around title.
Life had pulled her down many times, but gravity had not. She’s flirting with it, like she always has. Perhaps better than ever, Simone Biles flies and twirls through the air at the World Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp. Seeing that scene, what spectator still thinks of the forced pause behind her, introduced for the sake of pure self-preservation?
The American returned to the place where she began her impressive career ten years ago when she was a 16-year-old prodigy. She returned to the international scene after her mental breakdown during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. So, she is back in the spotlight. Everything seems to be back to normal.
Ancient Heavenly Level
Athletically, Biles immediately returns to the heavenly level she was at last year upon her return. Through her exercises, she scores a total of more than 15,000 points. The smiles have also returned for teammates, coaches, spectators and, basically, everyone. But Biles 2.0 has certainly changed, as the situation in the stadium’s catacombs proves.
The narrow aisle system beneath the Sportpaleis’ stands wasn’t actually designed for someone of her stature. Journalists from all over the world flock to ask her a question. She’s an athletic phenomenon, a symbol of the liberation wave in the gym, and someone who captures the imagination not only because of her muscularity and acrobatics, but also because of the setbacks she’s overcome.
The team gold for the United States, which it won under her leadership on Wednesday evening, means its twentieth world title. How different this title is, one reporter wants to know. “Every tournament looks different,” she answers eagerly. “I’m a little older now. It’s not as carefree as it used to be. I think more about training. It’s also harder to push my physical limits day after day. My body is more tired.” Then he laughed: “Everyone says I look great, but sometimes I don’t feel that way.”
Be careful with public appearances
A public relations woman from USA Gymnastics keeps a tight watch over the crowded mixed zone. Four minutes for one TV station, two minutes for another, and a total of 4 minutes and 46 seconds for all written media combined. It would have been better to hold a press conference in a large hall, but that is not an option in 2023. Biles is cautious about public appearances. The USA Gymnastics official explains that there is daily consultation about what she feels and what she feels comfortable with. This is how traces of the past appear.
You’ve been away for two years, and another question is, how can you look better now than ever? “By working hard in the gym,” says Biles. “It’s been one of my personal goals to come back and see what I can do.”
Well, I showed it right away. During the qualifying round, she performed a jump combination that no woman had done before: Yurchenko’s double corner somersault, which, given the jury’s difficulty level of 6.4, is now officially the hardest jump of all time. After running, there is first a cartwheel with a reverse landing on two feet, then a full rotation back around the display axis, and then after a take-off with the hands on the machine, these two special somersaults.
This “Biles II” is actually the fifth item to bear its name. To be registered by the International Gymnastics Federation, the performance must take place, without a fall, at a World Championship or Olympic Games. Bell’s short stature – 1.42 meters – helps her turn quickly. She now has her own items on the beam (one), floor (two), and vault (two). Only at this championships is there another gymnast who has performed one of these moves for the first time: Hilary Herron of Panama. All those years ago, no one had dared to do this.
Lead role: Tweeting about pizza
It’s just one of the many statistics that confirm its greatness. At 26 years old, she is the oldest gymnast to become U.S. all-around champion for the eighth time, also a record. The team’s gold medal in Antwerp puts them on the list of most podium finishes at the World Cup and Olympic Games, having overtaken Larisa Latynina of the former Soviet Union, who was stuck at 32nd in the 1950s and 1960s.
But it’s not just the numbers on her record that make her special. She also played a pioneering role in the cultural change that is still underway in the sport of gymnastics. When she was growing up, strict training regimes were the norm and gymnasts had to be submissive above all else. Biles has done and does things differently. In a sport obsessed with weight, you tweet about your post-tournament pizza.
Furthermore, as an active athlete, she takes an open stance by emphasizing that gymnasts should not be viewed as tools, but as people. Not only did she testify in court against Larry Nasser, the American sports doctor who sexually assaulted her and dozens of her colleagues. Biles also used the moment to point out that the culture of submission in her sport is partly to blame.
A voice has an impact
Her voice has an impact, and she knows it. She is looked at always and everywhere. By her colleagues who hope she will lead the way toward a healthier performance environment and by millions of citizens who expect nothing less than gold from her. In Tokyo, the double pressure became too much for her.
That’s why her return is so wonderful and hopeful for the sport. Biles is a symbol of resilience, a woman whose grandparents adopted her because her addict mother couldn’t care for her. During the break, she celebrated life and married American football player Jonathan Owens.
And finally, there’s that magical flirtation with gravity again, which only she can do. Yellow is scarred, but unbroken and wiser. When she left Japan, she said at the time: “The important decision is that I will focus more on myself in the future.” Her entourage helps her monitor her stress level. “Another question for Simone,” says the mixed-area PR lady. How do you look at the past decade? “I feel like I’m getting stronger every year.”
Biles wins world all-around title
American Simone Biles won the world all-around title for the sixth time in her career. The American scored 58.399 points, ahead of Brazilian Rebecca Andrade (56.766) and American Chiles Jones (56.332). Dutch gymnasts Itora Thorsdottir (54.098) and Naomi Visser (53.132) finished sixth and twelfth, respectively.
Biles’ charged-up comeback in Tokyo: ‘We’re not just athletes, we’re human too’
When she returns to the gym, Simone Biles opts for an easy bar workout. You win bronze with it. “I wasn’t here for a medal, but for myself.”
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