Biles becomes most awarded gymnast of all time

USA Gymnast Simone Biles poses with her bronze medal in the women’s balance beam at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. // Photo courtesy of Jae C. Hong Associated Press

Simone Biles has made history yet again, claiming her sixth World’s title, officially making her the most decorated artistic gymnast of all time — male or female.

Biles has made an explosive comeback to gymnastics following her retirement. She stepped away from the sport after a tumultuous Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

On her second Olympic tour, Biles developed the twisties — a condition where a gymnast loses their “air sense” or ability to tell where they are at any given time in the air. This was critical for Biles as her routines often center around physics-defying moves, like The Biles II; a high-flying stunt that consists of a backward  triple-twisting and double-tucked salto that is nearly impossible.

Jamie Shapiro, a certified mental performance consultant and co-director of the sport and performance master’s program at the University of Denver, explained the science behind the innocuously named phenomenon.

“When you get the twisties, there is a disconnect between the brain and body. The body knows what to do, and motor programs are stored in the brain, but the brain is having trouble accessing and executing those rehearsed motor programs,” Shapiro said.

As a result, Biles temporarily withdrew from the individual all-around final and the vault, floor and bars finals. Although she eventually returned with a modified beam routine that did not require any twisting, claiming a bronze medal in the process, the decision to withdraw drew widespread criticism and sparked a conversation on the consideration of the mental health of athletes.

Taking the last two years to focus on her mental health and well-being, Biles made her long-awaited return to the sport earlier this year on Aug. 5 at the 2023 U.S. Classic in Chicago, Illinois. 

Competing in all four events, Biles dominated the Classic, winning the all-around title – covering the vault, bars, beam and floor events – with a five-point lead (59.100) over talented gymnasts in silver medalist Leanne Wong (54.100) and bronze medalist Joscelyn Roberson (54.050).

Going on to compete in the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Biles continued the momentum, winning her eighth consecutive national title, posting an all-around two-day score of 118.40, four points ahead of silver medalist Shilese Jones (114.550) and breaking the previous record for most national titles held by Alfred Jochim, who had seven. At 26, Biles became the oldest woman to win a national title, displacing Linda Metheny-Mulvihill’s 1971 title at 24 years of age.

Despite the historic win, Biles seemed to be unaware of the precedent, “I don’t think about numbers … I think about my performance. And I think overall, I hit 8 for 8. I guess it’s a lucky number this year,” Biles said after the win.

In her most recent and first international competition since the Olympics, Biles traveled to Antwerp, Belgium for the 2023 World Gymnastics Championship. At the meet, Biles claimed two gold medals in the beam and floor events and landed the notorious Yurchenko double pike on the vault in a stunning display of skill. 

As the first woman and one of the few people to ever compete the skill, Biles’ accomplishment is even more impressive consdering the difficulty of the manuever. It requires the gymnast to perform a round-off to the springboard, a back handspring onto the table and a backwards double salto with the legs held straight in a pike position smoothly transitioning off the vault table to the mat below.

The skill has no bailout, meaning a performer could easily land on their head or neck if they underrotate as there is no chance to self-correct once they have left the vault table. “It’s a very difficult vault, and one mistake can have serious consequences,” said U.S gymnastics coach Laurent Landi. Biles opted to compete the skill with Landi on the mat for a spot in case anything went wrong, resulting in a significant half-point deduction. However, she was able to place second with a score of 14.549, a narrow two-tenths behind Rebeca Andrade of Brazil. 

Finishing with a team score of 167.729, the U.S. team won gold, followed by Brazil with 165.530 and France with 164.064. This victory was historic for the U.S. women’s team, who have now surpassed the Chinese men’s team for most consecutive global titles with seven. Biles now has a total of 37 world championships and Olympic medals, making her the most decorated gymnast of all time. The 2023 Worlds Championship was significant for Biles as Antwerp was where she won her first world title a full decade ago. 

Whether she will compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics is yet to be announced. Despite her continuous pushing the boundary of what is considered humanly possible, Biles takes a lighthearted approach to the infamously grueling sport, “I’m just here along for the ride and to contribute to the U.S. and just have fun,” said Biles.