By Blythe Lawrence
STUTTGART, Germany, Oct. 10 – The performance was worthy of a mic drop, so Simone Biles decided to go for it.
The 22-year-old superstar, known by most at this point as the greatest gymnast of all time, bounded to her fifth World all-around title Thursday afternoon in even more commanding fashion than usual, her 2.1 margin of victory the largest of her World wins.
In a women’s all-around competition where the overall winner seemed pre-determined, Biles still managed to bring excitement, her dazzling acrobatic pyrotechnics and ear-to-ear grin turning the World final into The Biles Show to the delight of a sold-out crowd. Overall, she tallied 58.999, including the highest scores of the day on vault, where her Cheng netted her 15.233 points, as well as on beam (14.633) and floor (14.400).
Biles was so dominant that the surprise of the day may have been the small flourish she added to her choreography at the end of her floor routine, when she mimed dropping a mic. For an athlete who doesn’t think much about medals, records, or the measure of her own greatness, it was a rare acknowledgement: Yeah, that was pretty good, wasn’t it?
“It wasn’t my best performance, but I landed on my feet,” said Biles, who was inspired to do the mic drop after seeing a video of it Wednesday evening with U.S. teammate MyKayla Skinner, who urged her to add it to her routine. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ And she was like ‘Yeah, sure.’ And I was like, all right, if it’s a good routine I’ll do it.”
After three excellent routines on vault, uneven bars and balance beam, Biles led China’s Tang Xijing by 1.2 points heading into her final routine on floor, one of her strongest events. And despite taking three steps out of bounds on floor exercise, Biles actually increased her lead by nearly a point during her fourth and final routine, leaving coach Laurent Landi shaking his head at his protegee’s capabilities.
“She never flies like this in training, only in competition, so she needs to control herself a little more, but you know what? It was the last event at the World Championships,” Landi said. “I’d rather have this than somebody making a mistake at the end.” The French-born coach was also especially proud of Biles for mastering her beam routine, giving her the cushion she enjoyed heading into floor. No one is completely infallible, he pointed out, not even Biles.
“You can make a tiny mistake here and there, and then all of the sudden you’re equal,” Landi said. “Even her, she cannot really afford to make mistakes. Nobody can afford that. Two points is two falls, or one fall plus a requirement. It goes very, very quickly.”
The lesson was well learned by Sunisa Lee. In her first World all-around final, the 16-year-old came off the uneven bars after a Pak salto early in her exercise, effectively ending her quest for a spot on the podium. Lee finished a highly respectable eighth overall with 55.632 and tallied the second highest score of the day on floor, a 14.2.
“A little bit of doubt goes a long way,” Lee remarked. “Bars, I don’t know. I think I just got really nervous, and I was thinking more about the scores than myself at that point, because I know where I wanted to be.”
After falling on one of her acrobatic beam series in both the qualification and team final, mastering her complex routine for 13.833 points was a highlight for the Minnesotan. “I was very pleased with my balance beam routine, because after bars I was a little bit down, but I managed to come back on beam and finish the rest of the meet strong,” Lee said. “I feel like I kind of let the nerves get to me a little bit, but it’s all part of the learning experience. There are going to be a lot more meets to come before the Olympics, so hopefully I can kind of get myself back together for that.”
China’s Tang Xijing, a last-minute replacement for teammate Liu Tingting, made the most of her opportunity, becoming the first Chinese woman in eight years to stand on the all-around podium. Russian veteran Angelina Melnikova captured her first World all-around medal with bronze, half a point behind Tang.
Impressive as she was Thursday, Biles was holding some difficulty in reserve. She left out two of her hardest skills — her double-twisting double tuck beam dismount and roundoff, half on, front layout double full vault, both of which are or will be named for her — out of her routines, judging any more difficulty too risky. Though she did feel up to competing the harder vault, Landi decided to hold off.
“I did ask Laurent if I could do the double full vault and he said no,” Biles said, noting that she missed it the last time she performed it at the World Championships. “I was like, are you having flashbacks? He was like, ‘Just stick to the one and a half.’”
Biles’s all-around gold is her 16th World title and 22nd medal, bringing her one pace closer to the all-time record set by Vitaly Scherbo, who owns 23. With four chances to medal left in event finals, Biles looks likely to break that record before leaving Stuttgart.
If she does get there, it will be with a little help from her friends. “I’m really excited because we have a couple more girls out there for finals, so I won’t be out there alone,” Biles said. “That always helps me a bit.”