STUTTGART, Germany -- The celebration was low key — just a family dinner, in fact — because the birthday girl was leaving on a business trip soon and had to keep her mind on work.
Asked if she’d celebrate her birthday a little more after returning to the United States, Simone Biles smiled and shrugged. “We’ll see,” said Biles, who turned 22 on March 14. For now, her job as a gymnast takes priority. Three years removed from winning four gold medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Biles has grown into the legend-in-her-own-time status that comes with being an Olympic great who continues to dominate in her sport. This is Simone Biles at 22: a businesswoman, wholly focused on her career, and one of the iconic Women of Team USA being celebrated this week.
Sunday’s Stuttgart World Cup, her first world cup event in four years and her first ever held outside the United States, was a good day at the office: Biles breezed through each of her slightly watered-down routines, showing a twist less than she’s capable of here and there but leaving no doubt that she’s still the boss. She won easily, tallying 58.8 points, an all-around score more than three full points higher than second place finisher Ana Padurariu of Canada, the kind of margin that used to make people shake their heads with incredulity but has become Biles’ standard.
In front of a pack of eager reporters before and after the competition, Biles’ ear-to-ear smile was still bright enough to light a city, but the giggles that punctuated her interviews when she was younger have mostly disappeared. These days, she carries herself with the maturity of someone well aware of her place in the history of her sport and in the hearts of her many fans.
“I feel like I have more goals inside the sport than outside right now, just because my life is so consumed with gymnastics at this point,” she said. “If I get an assignment it’s more of a business trip. Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, you’re going out of the country, you get to have so much fun!’ But every time they say, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘All I saw was the arena, the workout gym and my hotel.’ I have fun, especially if the girls are here with me, but it is more of a business trip.”
This most recent business trip includes Paris, where she got her workouts in at the French Olympic training center between fulfilling commitments with sponsor Nike. Though her schedule was tight, Biles did steal a little time to go see a few of the monuments, including the Eiffel Tower — “my big to-do,” she said.
Paris was followed by Stuttgart for the world cup. This week she’s in London to headline the Superstars of Gymnastics show with two-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock of Great Britain, which will have two performances in the O2 Arena on March 23.
After years of putting business before pleasure leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games, Biles took the year after Rio to check things off a bucket list compiled between workouts (swim with sharks, check; travel the world, check; hobnob with other sports greats, check). Then she went back to work, returning to the gym in November 2017 under the tutelage of new personal coaches Laurent and Cecile Landi.
Simone Biles competes at the 2018 FIG Artistic Gymnastics Championships on Nov. 2, 2018 in Doha, Qatar.
She returned to elite competition last summer, where she stunned the gymnastics community by picking up exactly where she left off: atop the victory podium. She confirmed her supremacy with four titles at last fall’s world championships in Doha, Qatar, despite competing with a kidney stone that landed her in the emergency room the night before the competition began. A year to the day after she resumed training, she stood on the podium with a gold medal on floor exercise, the first American gymnast ever to medal in all six events at worlds.
To say that a story like Biles’ is rare in women’s gymnastics is to understate it — with a few notable exceptions, female gymnasts from top nations build toward a single Olympic Games and then move on to other things. Biles competes for the strongest country on the planet, yet she has been so dominant that at the beginning of her seventh year as a senior elite, there is still no one who can touch her on her worst day.
Her world silver medal on uneven bars in Doha — the event previously considered her only weakness — has incited speculation that she could execute an unprecedented clean sweep of the six golds available in women’s gymnastics next year in Tokyo.
“Oh goodness,” Biles giggled to that. “Even going to Rio, I never expected to come out with as many medals as I did, because it was my first Olympics. It just kind of happened, and I never had any goals for that.”
She hasn’t defined her goals for this year, let alone next yet, though she said with just a touch of self-conscious humility that making another world team would be nice.
“Team is my favorite, just because you guys can all walk away with something to cherish together, and you have that team goal. I like doing both (team and individual), but team is definitely my favorite,” she added. “I would definitely hope to get on another worlds team, hopefully win the team gold again, and we’ll see from there. I try not to put too many expectations on myself.”
“We try to avoid all this,” added Laurent Landi. “We try to not think about results. More process than anything else. If she does the job every day in the gym the result will be there.”
Despite her strong showing in Stuttgart, both Biles and Landi admitted that Biles is not 100 percent at this point in the season, but they understand that timing is key. And with that, Simone Biles departed. She had work to do.