“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.”