By Jo-Ann Barnas
PITTSBURGH – The message was brief and filled with reflection. It was sent two days ago to her 15,600-plus Twitter followers, and it came via the small but strong fingers of Simone Biles.
Eight words that said it all: “this time last year everything was so different.’’
On the eve of the P&G Gymnastics Championships, Biles was at her charismatic best as she talked about the challenges of trying to become the first female gymnast since Shannon Miller to win back-to-back world women’s all-around titles. Miller did it in 1993-94.
But first, she talked about the past and everything that was so “different’’ about it – specifically, her less-than-successful meet at the 2013 Secret U.S Classic when she fell on two apparatuses, delivered a wobbly balance beam routine and didn’t attempt a vault.
It was a performance that was so underwhelming it made her laugh when she watched the replay. It also sent the Texan to a sports psychologist who taught Biles a “breathing technique’’ to handle nerves and how to “push the negativity out.”
“Maybe it’s what I needed, because we have to all fall down before we get back up again,” she said Wednesday with a smile.
At last year’s P&G Gymnastics Championships in Hartford, Conn., Biles showed her true resolve and determination. She not only won the all-around title, but took individual silver medals on vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
Yes. Simone reborn.
Then on the world stage last fall in Antwerp, Belgium, Biles was again in full splendor. She claimed the gold medal in the all-around and took three individual event medals on floor (gold), vault (silver) and beam (bronze).
Now fast forward to this month — just 2 ½ weeks ago — at the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic in Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Biles officially put the past in the past with a dominating victory in the all-around. She handily won the title with 61.700 points. 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross was second with 60.050.
“She’s becoming an accomplished gymnast, somebody who realizes that not just getting to the top is important, but staying there,” said Martha Karoyli, USA Gymnastics National Team Coordinator.
Looking perfectly coiffed – right down to her sparkle eye shadow – after Wednesday’s podium training at Consol Energy Center, Biles talked excitedly about what the future holds for her. She plans to attend and compete for UCLA. However, she will be deferring enrollment until 2017, after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
2008 Olympic all-around champ Nastia Liukin said the only advice she would give Biles is to “keep it one day at a time.”
“Yes. I know that sounds generic,” Liukin said. “But at this moment, this is only the halfway point of a four-year (cycle). So you see the light at the end of the tunnel. At this point, it’s very mental.”
Biles gets it. More than anything, she has embraced the advice of her mother. And the words mean a lot: “Go out there and be the best Simone you can be.”