It’s long been said that Simone Biles performs such difficult gymnastics routines that she could win a world all-around title with a fall.
That theory was tested to the max on Thursday, when Biles fell not once but twice during the world championships all-around final in Doha, Qatar.
And yet, with a strong finish on floor exercise, the defending Olympic champ had indeed done enough to win another world title — and with room to breathe.
Biles won her fourth world title with 57.491 points. Japan's Mai Murakami was second with 55.798 points, while U.S. teammate and defending world all-around champion Morgan Hurd was third with 55.732 points.
With the win, Biles now has four world all-around titles dating back to 2013, one from every worlds in which she competed (she didn't compete at all in 2017); the four world all-around titles also breaks a tie she held with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina.
The result also marked the eighth year in a row in which an American woman has won the Olympic or world all-around title, with Biles accounting for five of those.
Biles, a generational talent who is often called the best gymnast of all time, now has a combined 21 Olympic or world medals, and today’s win ties her with former Russian men’s gymnast Vitaly Scherbo for a record 12 world titles. The 21-year-old Texan will have four more opportunities to win world titles in Doha — and she’ll be the favorite on three of those events.
Yet Thursday’s competition was a stark reminder to a concept Biles has long been advocating during her miraculous career: She’s still human.
And so, after being held in a Doha hospital for kidney stone treatment until the early morning hours on Oct. 28, and then coming back to dominate qualifying later that day, and then leading the U.S. to its fourth consecutive world team title on Tuesday, Biles had a rare off day on Thursday.
The competition opened with a shocker as Biles sat down her eponymous vault, an extremely difficult Yurchenko half on, front double full off that takes her name after she completed it in the qualifying round. On Friday, her block off the vault table sent her into the air with less amplitude than usual, leading to a short landing, which caused her to roll onto her back. With a strong start value, Biles still scored 14.533.
That she performed the Biles was in itself a surprise, as Biles had done a different vault during warmups.
Biles made up for that with a strong performance on uneven bars — traditionally her weakest event — to score 14.725 points and claim a slight lead over Hurd at the midway point. Then Biles fell again, this time on beam, in an overall rocky routine. She later needed a balance check to stay on following a front pike and then missed a connection in a routine that scored 13.233.
Despite her mistakes, Biles’ difficulty left her in a slight lead heading into the final rotation, and despite stepping out of bounds she came through on floor exercise to score 15.000 and secure the all-around title.
Hurd, meanwhile, went through the competition in the same group as Biles and performed comparatively cleaner. The 17-year-old from Delaware opened with a solid double twisting Yurchenko, or DTY, vault to score 14.600, and followed that up with another clean performance on uneven bars, scoring 14.333.
Like Biles, Hurd had a difficult time on balance beam, with early wobbles and then having to put her hand down. The defending world silver medalist on the event, Hurd finished with a score of 12.933 that dropped her to fourth in the all-around going into the last rotation.
However, a confident finish on floor exercise left her with 13.866 points on the event, boosting her back to third place overall.
The competition in Doha continues with individual event finals on Friday and Saturday, with Biles and Sam Mikulak each qualified for four.
Biles will go for her first vault world title on Friday, while both Biles and Hurd are also in Friday’s uneven bars final. On Saturday, Biles and Hurd go for floor exercise medals, while Biles and Kara Eaker compete for balance beam medals. Biles qualified with the top score in all four finals except uneven bars, on which she had the second-highest score.
On the men’s side, Mikulak and Moldauer will compete in the floor exercise final on Friday, with Mikulak also in pommel horse finals. Then Mikulak will take part in parallel bars and high bar finals on Saturday.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.