This should be Simone Biles’ moment.
With her rare blend of power and grace, the 18-year-old Texan is an overwhelming favorite to win her third consecutive all-around world championship when she competes Thursday in Glasgow, Scotland.
A win would make Biles the first threepeat world champion and eclipse Shannon Miller’s historic back-to-back titles in 1993-94.
So why isn’t Miller the least bit upset?
The answer is that the 38-year-old Miller has been waiting for this moment since 1994.
“I am absolutely shocked that my back-to-back world all-around titles haven’t been topped before now. We’ve had so many amazing gymnasts competing since 1994,” Miller, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said by email. “It’s important, critical even, that records be broken. Our gymnasts and coaches work so hard day in and day out, it’s nice to see all that hard work paying off. Young people need to see that.”
It’s not hard to find Olympians with a bad word to say about Biles. It’s impossible.
But the superlatives practically spill off Miller’s tongue when describing gymnastics’ reigning princess, who finished nearly four points ahead of the nearest competitor in the qualifying round Thursday and led the U.S. women’s team to its third consecutive world team title on Tuesday.
Since bounding on to the international stage in 2013, Biles has won an American-record seven world gold medals and is tied for the U.S. lead with 10 total medals. In a typical sublime display, she executed an Amanar — one of most difficult vaults — with such pinpoint precision during training in Scotland this week that U.S. National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi let out a loud “Wow!” before Biles had even landed.
“Simone is Simone,” Miller said. “There is no one else like her.
“Her power and strength are absolutely stunning. She makes the most difficult skills look like a walk in the park. She has this amazing smile and way about her throughout the competition that shows she truly enjoys the sport. At the same time, her skill level and ease during routines can’t help but completely intimidate the other competitors.
“Barring injury, I can’t see anyone coming close to Simone Biles.”
In the 1990s, Miller was the sport’s reigning “It Girl,” her 16 combined world championship and Olympic medals making her the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history. She won five medals at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games and two gold medals at the Atlanta 1996 Games as part of the “Magnificent Seven” — the first U.S. women’s team to win Olympic gold in the team event.
One of her finest moments came at the 1994 world championships in Birmingham, England. In an almost eerie display of self-control, the catlike 16-year-old surmounted nagging injuries and other hard knocks to become the first American to win back-to-back all-around world titles. It’s a feat matched by only four gymnasts, including Biles, since the world championships began in 1938.
Miller said Biles displays the same kind of laser-like focus today.
“Simone and I are both competitive with ourselves; (we) don’t get too caught up in everything going on around us,” Miller said. “It’s not about competing against others as much as competing to be our very best.
“Nineteen ninety-four was a tough year for me. I had a pulled stomach muscle leading up to and through the competition. It was a constant battle. I had to hit the balance beam routine of my life to edge into first.”
An ankle injury prevented Miller from a “three-peat” attempt in 1995, a setback she was willing to accept in preparation for the 1996 Games on home soil.
“I guess from the 1995 world championships I had to remind myself to run my own race,” she said. “It was important for me to remember that this was a sprained ankle, painful at the time but certainly not a career ending injury. I couldn’t worry about my individual standings, I had to focus on my larger goal — the Olympics.”
Yet there are no guarantees, a fact that Biles, with all her talent, might discover en route to her Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Chellsie Memmel, for example, won the world title in 2005 but was injured and was limited to one event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross won all-around gold and silver, respectively, in the ’09 world championships, but neither made the 2012 London Olympic team.
In fact, the last world all-around women’s champion to capture Olympic all-around gold at the next Games was Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine, who finished first in 1996 in Atlanta.
“My best advice to (Biles) would be to stay focused,” said Miller, who lives in Florida with her husband John Falconetti and their two children.
“It’s not what happens in the gym that will be an issue, it will be outside the gym when you’re pulled into a million different directions with interviews, appearances and other opportunities that you have to be mindful. Don’t get distracted from the primary goal.
“(But) I highly doubt that a seasoned competitor like Simone would be overwhelmed by anything at this point.
“She has the incredible combination of high difficulty value and a high execution score that’s simply unbeatable by anyone else currently competing.”
Clay Latimer is a Denver-based writer who covered four Olympic Games, in addition to other sports, over 28 years with the Rocky Mountain News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.