By Blythe Lawrence
What’s it like to achieve world domination? Just ask Simone Biles.
Not even a kidney stone stopped the four-time Olympic gold medalist from soaring into gymnastics history this week at the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, becoming the first woman to capture four World all-around titles and the first in 31 years to grab a medal on every event over the course of a single Worlds.
Biles’s six World medals from Doha — golds in the team event, all-around, vault and floor, silver on uneven bars and bronze on balance beam — bring her career total to 20 and ties her on the all-time World medals list with Russian great Svetlana Khorkina, who accumulated the same total between 1994 and 2003.
In terms of the number of gold medals won, Biles already stood alone with the most, but extended her lead. She currently possesses 14 World titles, five more than any other woman and two more than any other man.
And all this only a year after returning to training following a self-imposed hiatus after the Rio Olympic Games, where Biles won four Olympic gold medals, the most of any female gymnast in the past 48 years.
While the kidney stone Biles dubbed The Doha Pearl landed her in the emergency room the night before the women’s qualification round began, it did not stop her from putting on a formidable performance every time she stepped onto the competition floor.
Despite staying at the hospital until past 1 a.m., the 21-year-old showed up the next day to deliver four stellar performances, beginning with her upgraded uneven bars set and ending with a vault that no woman had ever attempted in international competition, qualifying for all five individual finals and re-establishing herself as nearly unbeatable in the process. Two days later, she helped put the U.S. team 8.766 points ahead of silver medalist Russia, their largest ever margin of victory.
Sure, there were mistakes here and there, but even dealing with some back pain from the stone Biles insisted on competing her full difficulty in each of the sixteen routines she performed in Qatar. “Even the best fall sometimes,” she said after missing on her risky new vault and popping off the balance beam in the all-around final, which she still won by 1.693 points, also the largest margin of any of her World all-around titles.
And while she could have watered down some skills or even taken them out, “that’s not the gymnast I am,” she said. “Even though I had those falls I would still rather go out there and show who I am as a competitor.” Nor did she blame the stone for her errors.
“No excuses,” Biles said firmly after the all-around final. “I feel like if it were a challenge for me, I wouldn’t have competed at all rather than blamed it on the kidney stone, and even after the events people might blame it on them, but I think it was just a matter of concentration.”
Her bronze on beam after a few uncharacteristic wobbles Saturday caused criticism of her performance to ripple through Twitter, which Biles nipped in the bud by sending a tweet of her own calling out those who weren’t satisfied with how she competed.
“Just saying, I get to decide when I have a disappointing performance,” she wrote. “Not y’all over a year out of the sport. Barely a year back in and my first big competition. I’m proud of myself!”
“It’s upsetting to me whenever I see all the tweets after the performances of how disappointed they are in me because it’s not fair,” she explained. “They can’t set expectations on me. I have to set them on myself.” Following her tweet, she then went out and nailed floor exercise for her fourth gold.
Next up for Biles is a doctor’s appointment to deal with the stone once and for all, and then “I’ll go on a little vacation and get back into the grind,” she said. After all, it takes a lot of work to make world domination look so easy.