“Sometimes I wonder how I do it” – Simone Biles sets new records in Stuttgart

Five times all-around world champion – Simone Biles (photo courtesy Stuttgart 2019)

17 November 2019 – As 2019 dawned, Simone was already an Olympic champion and four times all-around world champion. Her difficulty ratings were way ahead of everyone else – could she go any further? You bet – later in the year she would unveil new moves and set new records. During the world championships in Stuttgart last month, she talked about pushing the boundaries and winning more world championships medals than any other gymnast in history.

It was the talk of the town – Simone Biles was going to perform two moves that were more difficult than anything tried before – a double-twisting, double back tuck dismount from beam, and a triple-twisting double back tuck on floor. She had already successfully competed them at the USA national championships in August, but in order to get them named after her, she had to perform them in an official FIG competition. And that would be the world championships in Stuttgart.

“I feel really confident with the skills, and I’m actually really excited to do them and hopefully get them named after me at this competition,” she said just before the championships started. “I’ve done a triple double before, just playing around in the pits, but never thought it would be in a routine until now,” she added. “I feel like it’s not real, but it is.” 

When asked how she manages such complex tumbles, she admits “sometimes I wonder how I do it. When I look at videos afterwards, I’m thinking, ‘oh my god, how did I do that?’”

When Simone appeared in the Hanns Martin Schleyer Halle with her teammates for qualifications, the sell-out crowd roared their support. Every move she made was applauded, even her warm ups. She performed her two new signature skills – both landed perfectly – and both were added to the code of points, giving her four named skills in total. (One on vault, one on beam and two on floor).

Midway through her triple double on floor (photo courtesy Stuttgart 2019)

But there was controversy about the beam dismount. The technical committee decided it was only worth one tenth higher than a single twisting double back dismount, effectively giving it the same difficulty rating as if she were performing it on floor. It felt like a snub to Biles, who didn’t perform that dismount for the rest of the championships – a further three beam routines.

 “It’s not worth the one tenth,” she said later in the championships when asked why she hadn’t done it again. “Look, I’m sorry, it’s just not. If it was three tenths, yeah maybe, but one tenth – I don’t think so.”

Fortunately, she didn’t need the extra tenth, as her beam routines were on fire at these championships. “On beam I really get nervous because of the expectations on me,” she confessed before competition began. But she and her coaches made changes to her routine (where she had suffered big wobbles in the finals of the 2016 Olympics and 2018 world championships) which boosted her confidence, and she was delighted to win the beam title in Stuttgart. “To go out there and nail the routine just as I do in practise, it felt really good,” she said afterwards. “I’m thrilled with that performance – it was probably the highlight.”

Simone also set a new record, winning the most world championship medals of any gymnast, male or female, ever – 25, over five world championships. It’s not something she had planned on achieving, however. “I never go into a competition trying to win – I just go into a competition trying to compete like I train. I never think of medals – I am not a numbers person.”

Simone won her first all-around world title in 2013, in Antwerp, Belgium. Competing in her first world championships, she was a complete unknown, and that first title is the one she values the most. “I feel like nothing beats your first, just because you’ll always cherish and remember that one for ever,” she said in Stuttgart. 

Simone faces the media at her first world championships in 2013 (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

She is now well on track to retain her all-around Olympic title in Tokyo next year. Only two other female gymnasts have ever done that – Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union (1956 and 1960) and Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia (1964 and 1968).  Is that what inspires her to keep going? “No, sometimes I wish I had quit,” Simone says, “but I love the thrill of it, so it reminds me to never give up, because one day I will not have the opportunity to have that feeling.” 

“It was hell, I was terribly nervous” says Yana Batyrchina about her first world championships

16 September 2019 – The rhythmic gymnastics world championships started today in Baku, Azerbaijan. The ambassador for the event is none other than Yana Batyrchina of Russia, 1996 Olympic silver medallist. She recently wrote about her experiences at her first-ever world championships in Paris in 1994 on her Instagram profile. Here are some highlights from her harrowing account.

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Oksana Chusovitina & Svetlana Boginskaya

“When Svetlana is next to me as a coach, I feel confident.” (Oksana)
“That’s very flattering to me!” (Svetlana)

Former team mates – Svetlana Boginskaya (left) and Oksana Chusovitina in London earlier this year. (Photo copyright Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

August 2019 – These two gymnasts competed together on the last-ever Soviet gymnastics team (called the “Unified” team) at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. They both went on to compete at the 1996 Olympic Games – Oksana for Uzbekistan and Svetlana for Belarus – but little did they know that 23 years later, Oksana would still be competing at the age of 44, and Svetlana would be her part-time coach!

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Casimir Schmidt – a passion for fashion and cooking

Casimir Schmidt at Superstars of Gymnastics – (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 June 2019 – At the Dutch national championships last weekend, Casimir became all-around champion, a title that had eluded him since he first won it in 2013. Now aged 23, he is working hard to reach his goal of competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I met him in March at the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London, where he got into the spirit of the occasion by colouring his hair green. This, with his trademark Dutch orange leggings, earned him the nickname “the gymnastics carrot”! 

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Ellie Downie – back in the medal hunt

“Gymnastics is getting so much harder”

Elissa Downie of Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 April 2019 – European all-around champion in 2017, Ellie Downie of Great Britain then spent over a year recovering from surgery – twice – on her left ankle. She returned to competition at the 2018 world championships, then became British champion in March. In April she won the all-around silver medal and bronze on vault at the European championships. I talked to her about what it took to make a successful comeback.

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James Hall – perseverance pays off

“It’s so exciting to be the top dog”

James Hall of Great Britain (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

3rd April 2019 – Bronze medalist in the last European all-around competition, James is a top prospect for next week’s European championships in Poland. Now 23 years old, he struggled for many years to reach this level and is a perfect example of the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. He talked to Gym Stars just before the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London.

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Danusia Francis – putting on a show

“I adore and worship Usain Bolt

Danusia “does a Bolt” at the Superstars of Gymnastics (Photo courtesy Jamie McPhilimey / Matchroom Multi Sport)

19 March 2019 – This Saturday, 24-year-old Danusia, a former British gymnast now representing Jamaica, takes part in the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London. It will suit her very well, having competed for college gymnastics in the USA where they like to entertain the audience. I chatted with her after the 2019 English championships. 

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