Chasing history at Worlds, Simone Biles sets strategy
posted on 10/01/2019

© John Cheng

By Blythe Lawrence

Simone Biles has made no secret of the fact that she’s planning to compete her two notoriously difficult new skills -- the triple-twisting double back on floor and double-twisting double tuck dismount off beam, for those who haven’t been paying attention -- at this week’s World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart.

But just when, precisely, will those be happening?

The question, asked during a press conference with Biles ahead of the U.S. women’s podium training Tuesday, necessitated a whispered conference between Biles and coach Laurent Landi, as a roomful of reporters waited with baited breath. The World Championships is a long competition, and if all goes well, Biles will have four chances to perform each of her routines: in the qualification round, the team final, the all-around final and the individual event finals.

Her mind made up, Biles leaned back. “The triple double I’ll do at every competition here, because that’s what we’ve been doing in the gym. It’s getting better, so I’ll do that every time I do a full routine,” she announced, flashing her signature wide grin. She and Landi will be more selective about the double double off beam, opting at times to have the four-time 2016 Olympic gold medalist use her old dismount, the not-quite-as-hard-but-still-really-hard-nonetheless full-twisting double tuck.

In a women’s all-around competition with plenty of suspense but little mystery about who the champion will be, Biles has been conscientious about not letting the expectations get to her. At what could be her final Worlds, there’s more at stake than ever for the 22-year-old widely proclaimed as the best female gymnast in history. Having the triple double and double double off beam named after her in the women’s Code of Points -- which would give her a total of four skills bearing her name -- is just the beginning of a long list of the gymnastics history she could make during the next 10 days.

With 20 World medals to her name, Biles is tied with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina for the most ever won by a woman at the World Championships. Four more would surpass Vitaly Scherbo, the all-time leader, who has 23. Just stepping onto the floor in Stuttgart at her fifth World Championships will tie her with Kerri Strug for the most Worlds attended by a U.S. woman. She is the heavy favorite to win the all-around title for the fifth time since 2013, extending the record she already holds.

She could even become the first woman since the great Larissa Latynina of the Soviet Union to medal in every event at consecutive World Championships. Latynina did it in 1958 and again in 1962, at a time when the World Championships were held at four-year intervals. She could even become the first woman to win three Worldtitles on balance beam -- her golds from 2014 and 2015 tie her with Romania’s Daniela Silivas and Nastia Liukin, both of whom also have a pair of World titles on the precarious piece of leather.

But all that doesn’t really resonate with Biles, who has learned over the years to stay within herself. “In the end game, I never think of how many gold medals. It’s how well I can do in every competition in terms of hitting my routines and having good execution. I never go into a competition trying to win. I go into a competition trying to compete like I train,” she commented. “I never really feel like I’m a big name. Everyone puts that on me, I don’t really put it on myself. I don’t pay attention. Every year I just try to be better than I was the year before.”

For Landi, who has coached Biles at her family’s World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, since 2017, the work of the athlete runs parallel with the work of the coach. “My job is to help her, to develop her as much as possible, help her reach her full potential, and this is what we train to do every single day in the gym,” he said.

Biles’ long run of success will eventually come to an end, but it will be on her own terms. Asked about 44-year-old Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, who has been competing at the World Championships for almost 30 years and is trying to qualify for her eighth Olympic Games, Biles was in awe.

“She has a lot of courage. I definitely, unfortunately, will not be going until I’m 44 years-old,” she said. “She’s doing the all-around? Okay, yeah, I won’t be trying that. She’s very brave.”

And for Tokyo, the reporters wanted to know, would there be any surprises in store?

“I think I’m out, sorry,” Biles said. And again, that trademark smile.