The women’s gymnastics U.S. Olympic Team Trials had concluded, and there was no suspense for Simone Biles on that July weekend.
Biles did what she needed to do — which is what she seemingly always does — finishing first in the all-around competition. That top spot guaranteed the 4-foot-9-inch 19-year-old an automatic berth on the Olympic team.
As Biles sat tight in the waiting room at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, with the other gymnasts, teammate Aly Raisman told her that it was OK to cry because she had already punched her ticket to Rio. But Biles wasn’t ready to relax just yet. Not until the coordinator for the U.S. women’s gymnastics national team, Martha Karolyi, made it official.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to celebrate or take anything for granted until (Karolyi) comes in here and announces it,'” Biles said.
But, really, Biles had all but clinched a spot on the team ages ago, and she’s expected to dominate in Rio. Biles hasn’t lost an all-around competition (the combined score in all four events — vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise) in three years. She is a three-time world champion in the all-around and a four-time U.S. all-around champion. Biles has won 14 world medals (10 gold, two silver, two bronze), the most for a U.S. female gymnast.
And she gets high praise from another gymnastics icon: Mary Lou Retton, who was the first American to win all-around gold at the Olympics in 1984.
“Just when we thought we were at the physical limit of the sport, then here comes Simone Biles,” Retton said at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. “She’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
But if it wasn’t for her maternal grandparents, Biles may not be in the Olympics at all.
A life-changing move
According to Bleacher Report, Biles’ father had abandoned the family, and Biles’ biological mother struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. A young Simone and her sister, Adria, ended up in foster care in Ohio.
Then her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, stepped in, eventually bringing Biles and Adria to Spring, Texas, in 2002 and adopting them. Two older Biles children moved in with Ron Biles’ sister in Ohio.
After the adoption was official, Nellie Biles said to the girls, “It’s up to you guys, but you can call us mom and dad if you want.”
The next day Simone asked, “Grandma, can I call you Mom?”
“Of course,” Nellie said.
Simone now had a mom and dad. What followed was the blossoming of a gymnastics prodigy.
In 2003, a 6-year-old Biles was on a daycare field trip at a gym and was seen imitating other gymnasts. The gym sent home a letter to Biles’ family requesting she join tumbling or gymnastics.
It was a good recommendation. Today, Biles is the best in the world. Her skill power is unmatched. She even has a move on her favorite event, floor, named after her. The “Biles” is a tumbling pass that has a double layout — which has been in gymnastics for decades — but she takes it up another level by adding a half twist at the end, making it a blind landing.
“I’ve seen everyone so shocked whenever I do that skill because it’s a forward landing,” Biles said. “So it’s harder, and to do a half twist is hard also. So, nobody thought it was possible, and so every time I do it everyone just gets so excited.”
Raisman said that sometimes she thinks Biles isn’t human because of what she can do.
“I’m always in awe when I watch her,” Raisman said. “But I have a lot of respect for her because normally when girls are super, super talented… they don’t work that hard, but she is super talented, and she works very hard, which is why she has been unbeatable.”
When Raisman found out she made her second Olympic team, she started crying. That struck a chord with Biles.
“Yeah, I’m not really a crier, but Aly started crying, and it just made me really emotional because she’s gone through it,” Biles said, “So it was just kind of exciting for her and for all of us in that we were actually finally done.”
But while Biles’ place in gymnastics history is already assured, she really isn’t finished. Not by a long shot.
One item missing from her gymnastics resumé
The only hardware missing for Biles — who wasn’t eligible to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London because of her age — is an Olympic medal. Theoretically, that shouldn’t be an issue, as she has a good shot to win five of the six golds available in Rio. The US — led by Biles — is the favorite to win team gold. Biles is the clear favorite in the all-around. She’s also in the running to win individual events in vault, beam and floor.
And if it wasn’t scary enough for her competition, there is no lack of motivation for Biles, as she isn’t entering Rio on a high note — by her standards, anyway. On the second day of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which was her last competition before Rio, Biles wasn’t as sharp as usual. She had some uncharacteristic errors, including a fall on the beam.
Consider it more fuel to her competitive fire.
“I don’t really view myself as the world’s best or anything like that,” Biles said in the spring, according to Bleacher Report. “I have great confidence in what I do, and I’m really just competing against myself out there. I know my whole career is building toward the Olympics, and it can sound like a lot of pressure, but I’m just staying focused on what I can control and do my thing. I’m not alone; my family is with me when I’m out there competing. And I do believe in myself. I really do.”