HOUSTON — The city of Houston gave gymnast Simone Biles a Texas-sized homecoming Wednesday afternoon at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. An estimated 300 people packed the arrival gate of the international terminal to greet and cheer their hometown product who wowed the world by winning four gold medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, which wrapped up Sunday.
Fans of all ages began lining up more than an hour before her plane landed. Young girls held signs, people waved American flags, the local Klein Oak High School drumline pepped the crowd like a Texas Friday night football game and there was a sea of hands holding phones in the air to catch a photo or video of their hero.
Before Biles spoke to the audience, a woman shouted from the crowd, “We love you Simone.”
Biles, who also added a bronze medal in Rio, spoke few words.
“Hi guys, I’m Simone Biles,” she said with a girlish giggle and a smile that reached all the way across Texas, obviously humbled by the large reception. “I can’t thank everyone and all of Houston enough for coming out to see me today and welcome me from Rio. And I don’t know what else to say. I’m nervous.”
Biles showed no nerves in Rio, where she won gold medals in team, all-around, floor exercise and vault, and she took bronze on the balance beam. And Biles didn’t just win in Rio — she dominated.
Team USA Olympians selected the 19-year-old Biles to carry the American flag during the Closing Ceremony, making her the second gymnast to ever carry the flag. Swimmer Michael Phelps carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner opened the ceremony Wednesday afternoon by introducing the gymnast, who resides in nearby Spring, Texas, and then read a proclamation naming Aug. 24, 2016, as “Simone Biles Day” in Houston.
|Simon Biles waves to the crowd gathered to welcome her home in Houston at
George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Aug. 24, 2016.
“Let me just say the city of Houston is excited. We were excited before the Olympics and we’re even more excited today. The whole Houston region, not just the city of Houston,” Turner told the crowd. “We’re excited about all of those that participated in the Olympics. Now today we have Simone, her mom, her dad, her sister, they are all here. Give it up to the entire family.”
Turner said the city should give a gold medal to Simone’s parents, Ron and Nellie, for the “outstanding job” they did in raising their kids.
Sheila Jackson Lee, a U.S. Congresswoman who represents part of Houston, spoke after Biles and praised the gymnast and her family.
The Houston Texans football cheerleaders and mascot Toro showed up for photo ops with Biles, her family and local dignitaries.
Families in the crowd wore shirts that read “Team Simone.” Other airline passengers stood in line to cheer and take pictures, and everyone from flight attendants to a few pilots and the heavy security personnel all took in this event.
After quick speeches were made and photos were taken, the Klein Oak drumline revved it up again and marched in a column of two through the exit door, with Biles and her family walking inside the column with drummers on each side.
Once Biles and her family sifted through the exit, many of the TV crews interviewed fans to get their reaction.
Biles only answered one question from an audience member during the ceremony when she was asked what’s in her future.
“Right now we’ll be doing the Tour of Champions,” Biles said of the USA Gymnastics post-Games tour that begins Sept. 15 in Spokane, Washington. “We’re going to more than 30 cities, and we’ll be right here in Houston on Sept. 30.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.