Simone Biles is human. The proof came halfway through her beam routine at the world championships Thursday night, when a front flip ended with Biles reaching forward and squeezing the piece of wood as hard as she could with both hands.
Twenty minutes later, Biles finished a tumbling run with her right foot so far out of bounds it might as well have landed in Edinburgh, an hour to the east.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not supposed to be on this,'” Biles said, laughing.
Not that it mattered. While Biles might indeed be human, she’s not beatable. Not now, and unless her peers do some serious cramming over the nine months, not at next summer’s Olympics, either.
Despite the flubs, the meet ended the way it always does when Biles is in the field, with the 18-year-old supernova standing on top of the podium with a gold medal around her neck kind of dumbstruck at how this keeps happening. Her third straight world title came by the biggest margin yet, 1.083 points over teammate, buddy and reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas and bronze medalist Larisa Iordache of Romania.
“If I could crawl out of my skin and see it, it would be really amazing,” she said.
Biles’ eight world championship gold medals are a record for an American, and she’ll have a chance to add to that total in event finals over the weekend. Whoever is behind Biles in customs when she returns to the U.S. next week might want to Netflix and chill.
“I just keep blowing my own mind because yes there are goals that I have and then I dream of it and then I make it a reality,” Biles said. “I’m just shocked by myself.”
It’s just that the result is no longer shocking. Biles is in the midst of a run unprecedented in this era of women’s gymnastics, when peaks are typically measured in months and not years. Yet she is still improving, still pushing the boundaries.
Her performances have become events during an unbeaten streak at more than two years and counting, one that doesn’t appear in danger of ending anytime soon. She combines groundbreaking tumbling — there’s even a move named after her on the floor exercise — with nearly flawless execution.
Yet while Biles will be the overwhelming favorite in Rio next August, her toughest competition will likely from her own ridiculously loaded team. Douglas became the first reigning Olympic gold medalist to reach the podium at worlds since the Soviet Union’s Yelena Davydova in 1981.
The 19-year-old showed flashes of the brilliance that made her a star in London three years ago, her uneven bars routine done with the kind of precision and grace that originally caught national team coordinator Martha Karolyi’s eye.
Douglas is well aware of the distance between Biles and the rest of the field. Though Douglas calls Biles “amazing,” she’s hardly ready to cede that gold in Rio is out of reach. Attempting to become the first Olympic champ in nearly 50 years to repeat, Douglas has a plan in place to make the upgrades necessary to catch Biles.
“I’m excited for the road ahead,” Douglas said. “I’ve got bigger skills coming along.”
Douglas and everyone else will need them if they want to end an undefeated run that’s now at 10 straight meets, even if this one seemed to come a little harder than most.
There was that weird stumble on beam — the event she’s the most inconsistent on — that ended with what coach Aimee Boorman called the “save of the century” and the misstep on floor, when her seemingly jet-pack powered tumbling run left her standing on the red out of bounds carpet wondering how she got there.
“I didn’t even know I could land on the red,” Biles said.
It wasn’t exactly the coronation she had in mind. Though she’s typically immune to the pressure on her well-defined shoulders, Biles admits she caught herself glimpsing up at the scoreboard to see where she was at in the standings. Normally not one to think about the big picture, Biles was fully aware of the stakes.
“Everyone wanted the three-peat,” she said. “And I mean, yes, I wanted it and if it didn’t happen, I’d still be proud of myself, but it was just like I had to look to make sure.”
It never changed. Not after her soaring opening vault. Not after her athletic bars routine or the near disaster on beam and certainly not after an incomparable floor routine. Even with that wayward right foot, her closing score of 15.266 was easily the best, just like always.
Iordache overcame the disappointment of Romania’s stunning 12th-place finish in team qualifying to add a bronze to go with the silver she won last year. She hugged her coaches at the end of her routine, relieved after restoring some sort of order to the gymnastics world. Iordache said she was out for “revenge” after that miserable qualifying session. She beamed from the medal stand and fought back tears later. Maybe because she knows these days, the top of the podium is out of reach.
“Simone all the time is the best,” Iordache said. “She is the best gymnast, the best woman. She’s so cute.”
And not going anywhere.