By Blythe Lawrence
Simone Biles has proven so many times that she’s the greatest female gymnast who ever lived that it now seems she’s coming up with creative ways to get the message across.
For example, at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, she blew away the field in the prelims despite a kidney stone that kept her in the ER past midnight the night before. In becoming the first woman to win four World all-around titles Thursday evening despite falls on vault and balance beam, Biles added another unforgettable chapter to her ever-growing legend.
For any other gymnast, it would be unthinkable to win World gold with even a single fall. But Biles is so good and her difficulty so high that pundits have said for years that she would dominate the best even with multiple falls. On Thursday, she proved them right.
After sitting down on her roundoff, half on, front double full off vault in the first rotation for 14.533, only the sixth best vault score of the competition, Biles stunned spectators by popping off the balance beam as well after an undercooked front flip with a half twist. Added to the mistake on vault, that fall, which resulted in a 13.233, transformed what had been billed as a rout back into an honest-to-goodness competition.
As she marked a year to the day since she began training following a post-Rio hiatus, the Olympic champion had to rely on strong performances on her once-nemesis, the uneven bars — where her 14.725 was the second highest score of the night — and floor exercise, where her 15.000 was the top score, to meet the challenge thrown down by a peloton of competitors, including teammate Morgan Hurd, Japan’s Mai Murakami, Russia’s Angelina Melnikova and Belgian surprise Nina Derwael.
Heading into her final event, even Biles wasn’t sure exactly where she stood.
“Right before I went on floor, I asked [coach] Laurent [Landi], I was like, ‘What do I need, like an 18? Is that even possible? Do I need to do a men’s routine and just add two more passes?’,” Biles joked after the competition, which despite the errors she still carried by 1.693 points, her largest margin of victory at any World Championships.
“Vault was very uncharacteristic but then beam, I haven’t been as confident at this World Championships on beam as I have been in past competitions,” she added. “It (vault) shook me up a little bit, but I tried not to get off track and tried to focus on the three events that I had left. I had to go out there and put on a good performance for myself.”
Avenging a fourth-place finish from 2017, Murakami turned in four excellent routines to become the first Japanese woman to make a world all-around podium since 2009. Hurd, the World champion from 2017, had to grab the beam on a side aerial but came through with a fiery floor routine to claim the bronze.
“I think I was trying to be a little too perfect,” said Hurd, who still has event finals on uneven bars and floor exercise to come.
After all was said and done, Biles apologized to her fans on Twitter, writing that she “didn’t mean to give everyone a heart attack.” With four apparatus finals still to come, Biles has a unique chance to continue making history. No one has ever won every available title at a World Championships before, and no woman has medaled in all six events in 30 years. Biles is looking forward to seeing many of the same faces that pushed her Thursday in event finals.
“We have a really great group of girls,” she said. “They tried to cheer me up after beam, and I was not really having it because I know I can do much better beam sets and better events (than) tonight, but it’s definitely helpful and I’m excited to see them in finals,” Biles said.