|Simone Biles stands atop the women's floor podium at the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Nanning, China on Oct. 12, 2014.|
Simone Biles was not even born when Shannon Miller was winning all of her world and Olympic medals.
But Biles, born in 1997, shortly after Miller collected her gold medals as part of the “Magnificent Seven” at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and about two years after Miller won the last of her nine world medals, needed no history lesson to understand what it means to be passing her in the record books.
By winning two gold medals on the final day of the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Nanning, China, Biles now has six career gold medals from worlds, giving her the most of any U.S. woman — one more than Miller.
“I just heard that,” Biles told reporters in China, “and it actually blows my mind.”
With her gold-medal performances on the final day of competition on the balance beam and floor, Biles closed these worlds with four gold medals. She led Team USA to the gold medal in the team event and became the first American woman since Miller to win back-to-back all-around world titles. Biles, 17, also earned a silver medal in the vault final.
Throughout the week, Biles has performed incredibly powerful tumbling routines but seemingly coasted past her talented international opponents, mainly Romania’s Larisa Iordache. The only time Biles looked remotely beatable was when a bee came after the flowers she was carrying while standing on top of the all-around medal podium.
In just two trips to worlds, including last year in Antwerp, Biles has collected nine medals. Only Alicia Sacramone, who won 10 world medals in her career, has won more among U.S. women. Miller and Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic champion, finished their careers with nine.
Biles is also the first U.S. woman to win five medals at a single world championships.
Biles finished these worlds by sticking a full-in dismount on the balance beam and scoring a 15.100, and defending her world title on the floor (15.333), an event in which she has dazzled the crowd all week with her ability to combine explosiveness and expression.
Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics’ women’s gymnasts, naturally was pleased with the way Biles performed all week, but was most impressed by her routine on the balance beam.
“There’s no question that Simone is an extremely special gymnast with great physical abilities,” Karolyi told USA Gymnastics. “It’s a nice discipline behind that to work on the areas which not coming so easy for her. It’s almost like the best proof is how she won the world medal on beam. That’s usually not for bouncy girls so she had to put on great effort to make sure that she’s doing the right job.”
Overall, Team USA captured 10 medals at worlds – only second to the 12 medals collected in 2013, including the women’s team gold and men’s team bronze.
In addition to Biles’ medal collection Sunday, Olympic bronze medalist Danell Leyva earned a silver medal in the parallel bars and Jake Dalton secured the bronze medal on vault.
The performances at these worlds, most notably on the women’s side, gives Team USA plenty of reason for optimism as there are less than two years until the start of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. The United States brought a relatively young women’s team to China — only Biles and 2012 Olympic champion Kyla Ross had competed at worlds before. On the men’s side, veterans Sam Mikulak and Leyva helped the team capture a bronze medal and rookie Donnell Whittenburg made the all-around final (17th) and parallel bars final (seventh).
The world championships are not always an indicator of how gymnasts will fare in the Olympic Games, however.
None of the four U.S. women who have won Olympic all-around titles won world gold medals in the all-around. Mary Lou Retton never won a world medal yet captured the 1984 all-around gold in Los Angeles. Carly Patterson was the world silver medalist in the all-around in 2003 before winning the gold medal in 2004. Liukin was the silver medalist in the all-around in 2005, three years before winning gold in Beijing, and Gabby Douglas has won one world medal in her career thus far, in the team event in 2011.
Miller turned in a silver-medal all-around performance at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, before she won her all-around world titles in 1993 and 1994, and did not medal in the all-around at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
The last world all-around women’s champion to win the Olympic all-around gold medal was Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine, who was the 1995 world all-around champion a year before winning the Olympic title in Atlanta.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. She has covered five Olympic Games and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.