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One Year Ago Simone Biles Made History With Two Unprecedented Skills, Adding To Her Already Historic Career

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 09, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)

Simone Biles competes on the balance beam at the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 9, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. 

 

Rarely in the four-ring circus that is a gymnastics meet does the collective attention of the building focus in on one apparatus. Simone Biles is the exception to this rule, and never was that truer than at the 2019 U.S. championships.

Everyone knew what might be coming.

Videos released on social media had shown the Olympic champ practicing not one but two unprecedented skills. The audacious, dizzying feats had always been presented as the gymnast having fun at practice. By Aug. 9, 2019, however, word had circulated that Biles was planning to break them out in competition.

As the national championships got underway that night in Kansas City, Missouri, Biles did just that.

Beginning the evening on floor exercise, the dynamo punctuated her first tumbling pass by launching herself in the air for a triple twisting, double backflip. The maneuver was executed with so much power that Biles returned to the floor and bounced up like on a pogo stick, then had to set her hands down to avoid falling over.

It wasn’t perfect; nonetheless she was officially the first woman to land the triple-double.

And she wasn’t done.

On what proved to be an atypically rusty night for Biles, the 22-year-old nonetheless racked up more points than anyone before wrapping up on balance beam. Again, with the eyes of the crowd honing in, the Texan connected two back handsprings before dismounting with a double twisting, double backflip: aka the double-double. This time she landed it with just the tiniest of hops — and the biggest of smiles. History was made again.

The meet wasn’t going to be complete without the clean triple-double, though.

In a clip shown generously in promotion for the Tokyo Olympics, Biles went for it again on Aug. 11, the second and final night of competition. Dressed in a sharp, sparkly black leotard, the defending Olympic champ posed in one corner, then charged toward the other. From a roundoff and back handspring, she flew through as high as 10 feet into the air, spinning three times while flipping twice, all while keeping her body in tight form. And this time she landed it cleanly.

“It’s historical,” U.S. women’s high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster said afterward. “It’s like she hit a hole in one and we were all there.”

A few weeks later, Biles cemented the skills in the sport’s code of points when she again performed both cleanly at the world championships in Germany. In gymnastics, the first person to complete a skill at a major international competition has that skill named for them. As such, both the triple-double and double-double are now named the Biles (or, in the case of floor, the Biles II).

On the one-year anniversary of Biles’ historic weekend in Kansas City, we take a look at all of the history the gymnast, still just 23, has already made in the sport.

The Streak
The first national championships after an Olympics can be a more modest affair. The sold out stadiums from the previous year’s nationals and Olympic trials are now a little less snug, the setting a little less glamorous, as curious fans settle in to get their first look at the new generation or, if they’re lucky, a chance to watch a returning Olympian.

Such was the case in 2013, when 14 elite women’s gymnasts arrived at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. Attention naturally centered on the two returning Olympic gold medalists, “Fierce Five” stars McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross. Those in the know might have had an eye out for Biles, who had been a talented but by no means dominant junior gymnast. Even just a few weeks earlier, in one of her first meets as a senior, Biles had fallen three times before withdrawing at the U.S. Classic. Was she really the next big thing?

After just one night of competition, her otherworldly future began to present itself.

The 4-foot-8, braces-wearing 16-year-old went toe-to-toe with the impeccable Maroney on vault, worked the beam like she was born on it and nearly busted through the roof with her electric tumbling on floor. The only mistake came on her last rotation of night two, when she needed to take an extra swing on bars. Nonetheless, Biles showed enough to hold off the “Fierce Five” rivals — and everyone else.

Seven years later, Biles still hasn’t lost an all-around contest, a run that now includes six U.S. championships, five world championships and the Rio Olympics.
The Medals
The Greatest of All Time, or GOAT, designation is by nature subjective. How can one reasonably compare Biles with, say, the Dutch women who won the 1928 Olympic gold medal competing across “drill,” “with apparatus” and “jumps,” or even with Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian whose iconic perfect 10 performance in 1976 came in an era when the uneven bars were so close gymnasts purposefully swung their midsections into the low bar?

Make the qualitative case, however, and Biles stacks up here in oh so many ways.

The native of Spring, Texas, won her first world all-around title in 2013, the first year of an Olympic quad and, historically, one that isn’t all that predictive of success as the next Olympics. But then she won again in 2014, and yet once again in ’15. Two in a row? Rare, but it had been done. Three in a row? Now Biles was starting to get into unprecedented territory.

One year later at the Rio Games, Biles continued the streak by winning the Olympic all-around gold medal, along with golds from the team, floor and vault competitions. She took home a bronze medal, too, on the balance beam. Though the medal haul wasn’t quite record-setting, it was close. Just three women had previously won four gymnastics gold medals in a single Olympics, and only a select few have won more total medals.

Following a post-Olympic break, Biles was back in the gym for the 2018 season, and somehow she was even more prolific than before. That year she swept all five U.S. titles, becoming the first to do so since Dominique Dawes in 1994. From there she went on to become the first woman to medal across all four individual apparatuses at the world championships since the Soviet Union’s Yelena Shushunova in 1987. In total Biles won the maximum six medals, four of them gold, at that year’s worlds in Doha, Qatar, and she did so despite being hospitalized the night before qualifying with a kidney stone.

And by 2019, Biles’ longevity began pushing her to the top of the career lists, too. After winning five world titles for the first time that year, Biles’ career tally reached 19 wins and 25 medals at the world championships. No gymnast has more, even though men have two additional medal opportunities every year. Biles also stands out in history as the only woman with five all-around and floor world titles.

Next up for Biles could be the combined Olympics plus world championships medal record. With 30 medals and 23 golds across both championships, Biles already leads the way with wins. For the overall tally, she trails just former Belarusian men’s gymnast Vitaly Scherbo (33 medals, 18 gold) and the Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina (32 medals, 18 gold).
The Skills
With everyone else having finished at the 2013 world championships, Biles stepped on the floor in Antwerp, Belgium, just one routine away from her first global all-around title. With one powerful tumbling pass after another, Biles achieved even more than the hardware.

By performing a double layout half out — in which she completes two back somersaults in a straight, laid-out position, and in the second she twists halfway around to land facing forward — the 16-year-old star made history. The skill became the first one named for Biles, and later was a key element in her Olympic gold-medal routine in Rio.

It was just the start.

While training videos and Biles herself suggested she had all sorts of new difficulty in her arsenal, she focused the next three years on mastering her already difficult routines for the Rio Games.

With her five-medal haul in South America, Biles achieved that.

Then she decided to really go for it.

In 2018, her first year back in competition since the Olympics, Biles took one of the most difficult vaults being done — the Cheng — and added a half twist. That means she arrives at the vault with a roundoff, performs a half-twist onto the vault and then completes a somersault with two full twists before landing on the mat.

Biles, as is her style, didn’t just land the ultra-difficult maneuver, though. At the world championships she performed it with near perfect technique.

The skill is now called the Biles as well.

Her advances in 2019 were perhaps her most audacious.

Forster, the high-performance coordinator, said after the national championships that he believed the triple-double on floor and double-double dismount on beam represented the most difficult skills any woman could do on the two apparatuses.

“I think they would have to change the equipment, really, for that to happen,” Forster said. “Gravity is still gravity.”

Controversially, the FIG, which governs world gymnastics, seemed to agree but with a caveat.

In the sport each skill is graded for its difficulty, with an A skill being worth 0.1 points, a B skill being 0.2, and so on. Ahead of the world championships, Biles submitted the new skills for review.

The FIG came back with an unprecedented J, or one full point, for the triple-double. But the similarly immense double-double dismount was graded only as an H, or 0.8 points, with the technical committee citing safety concerns. In other words, they seemed to be downgrading her potential score to dissuade others from trying it and getting injured.

Annoyed but undeterred, Biles nonetheless performed both skills cleanly during the qualification round, ensuring she now goes into Tokyo 2021 with an incredible four eponymous skills.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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Simone Biles