Balance beam medalists
© John Cheng

By Blythe Lawrence

STUTTGART — It wasn’t about breaking the all-time World medal record. It wasn’t about winning yet another world title — her 18th for those keeping count, and Simone Biles isn’t. No, this was about Biles and the balance beam and the score she had to settle with it.

On a day when the gymnastics world held its breath as Biles toppled the all-time World medal record with gold on beam — then extended it further with a second gold on floor — to bring her total to 25, two more than previous record-holder Vitaly Scherbo, Biles herself was just focused on the gymnastics. Specifically on the balance beam.

Beam was an event where Biles was expected to take gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, but a small mistake in the Olympic final left her with a bronze. Biles still left as the only woman in four decades to win four Olympic titles in gymnastics, but the error lingered in her memory, sparking a crisis of confidence.

Her beam coach Cecile Landi, a 1996 Olympian for France, provided the support Biles needed. Biles and Landi have been working together since late 2017, and Biles credits her with dissipating that self-doubt. “After Rio I kind of trashed myself and my beam-work that I did, and I wasn’t the most confident,” Biles said. “I feel like she really helped me bring that back to life, and I feel confident again for the first time.”

Her serenity on one of gymnastics’ most precarious events shone through on Sunday, where Biles flew through a poised and confident set, tossing off some of the riskiest skills with nary a wobble. She closed it out with a full twisting double tuck dismount, a twist less than the groundbreaking dismount she unveiled earlier in the championships, but a fantastically difficult maneuver all the same.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on beam, so to go out there and nail the routine just like I do in practice, it felt really good,” Biles said of the routine, which received 15.066 from the judges. “I knew she was really proud, so I’m thrilled with that performance. It was probably the highlight. To see 15, I was like, that’s pretty crazy, so I was really proud.”

That was World medal number 24, and the record was hers, but Biles wasn’t done yet. Spurred on by her sizzling triple twisting double tuck opening tumbling pass, the 22-year-old broke her own record, which had stood for only 40 minutes, capping the championships with her fifth World title on floor, her 25th World medal. Her floor score, 15.133, was a full point ahead of silver-medalist Sunisa Lee, who was delighted with a second individual World medal after bronze in Saturday’s uneven bars final.

“I’m second in the world after Simone Biles, who’s obviously so amazing, and to be second is super crazy,” said Lee, who hadn’t even pictured herself on the World team even two months ago. “I think this gives me a lot of confidence, because I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself before this, so it feels really good just to feel good about myself going into the Olympics next year.”

Sixth on beam in 2017, Kara Eaker scored a personal victory with a fourth-place finish for a beautifully polished routine in 2019, her 14.000 just 0.3 behind bronze-medalist Li Shijia of China.

“I was really thankful to have this experience and opportunity to compete today,” said the ultra-composed Eaker, who was initially first alternate to the beam final but was called up to compete after Canada’s Ellie Black withdrew due to injury.

On the beam in her second World final Sunday, “I definitely had to tell myself to calm down and remember everything I tell myself, to stay focused,” Eaker said. What she’ll take away: “the experience of it all, how it makes me feel, and how to use that for meets coming up.”

It was a roller-coaster 27th birthday for Sam Mikulak, the lone U.S. man to make an event final at this World Championships. The 2018 World bronze-medalist on high bar threw everything he had — including his relatively untested Liukin release skill — into his routine, but a hesitation in a handstand and a big hop after his dismount ate into his medal potential, and he ended fifth with 14.066.

“[The Liukin] a skill that I really haven’t had the time to make as perfect as I want it to be, but you know, I was swinging for the fences today and was happy to get it in there in this high-pressure situation. Going forward, it will give me a lot of confidence,” Mikulak said. “Where I was less pleased was with my landing. I’ve been practicing my sticks and I had so much energy. That’s where if anything in the routine I felt like I could have done better, it was probably in the dismount.”

Brazilian Olympian Arthur Nory Mariano surprised himself as he swung to the high bar title with 14.900, the first Brazilian man to win World gold on an event other than still rings. But the night — and the Worlds, and the records — belonged to Biles.

“This is probably my best Worlds’ performance I’ve ever put out,” Biles said reflectively. Asked which routine she liked best, she smiled. “I would say all of them.”

And the record? Well, that’s going to take some processing.

“Maybe ask me next week,” she said.