RIO DE JANEIRO – Simone Biles discovered there’s actually a drawback to having more than one Olympic gold medal.
After Biles won team and all-around gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she and teammate Aly Raisman, who has a gold and a silver, wore their medals for a television show.
“They started to scratch,” said Biles, sounding slightly alarmed. “So we’re not going to do that anymore.”
And now she has three. And Biles is still in the hunt for two more of the medals which she said are surprisingly heavy. That would make her the first female gymnast in Olympic history to win five gold medals at one Olympic Games.
She surpassed Shannon Miller as the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history with 17 medals in Olympic and world competition. Miller has 16.
She will compete on balance beam on Monday and floor exercise on Tuesday. Biles led the qualification in all three individual events, failing to qualify only in the uneven bars, in which her teammate, Madison Kocian, won the silver medal Sunday. Alex Naddour was the surprise bronze medalist on pommel horse.
Biles remained golden in Rio by nailing both of her vaults by incredible margins over all of her competitors.
Not only is she the first U.S. gymnast to win the gold medal in women’s vault, she’s also the first U.S. gymnast to win three golds at an Olympic Games.
Biles scored 15.966 points – the average of her two vaults – and was the only gymnast to surpass 16 points on any vault.
Maria Paseka, the 2015 world champion, was second with 15.253 points followed by Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland with 15.216.
Hard to believe given Biles’ dominance in the sport the previous three years, but she had never won a world gold medal in vault. Biles won the world championship bronze medal in 2015 and took silver in 2013 and 2014.
“There is a lot of satisfaction that I have winning gold on vault finally,” Biles said.
In some quarters, Biles has been called the greatest female gymnast ever.
“I want to agree,” said Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. “She really is one of those girls who combines very well the God-given great talent with discipline and hard work.”
And consistency. Just like she had been on her three other days of competition, Biles was spot on.
Even sitting next to the runway awaiting her turn, Biles could not be missed. The sparkles on her solid red leotard made her look like a human light show, and enhanced her explosiveness once she stepped up to compete.
Biles scored 15.900 on the vault called an “Amanar” after Simona Amanar of Romania, who preceded her as Olympic all-around champion in 2000.
And yet she wasn’t satisfied.
“She wasn’t happy with her first vault,” said Biles’ coach Aimee Boorman. “She thought she can do it better; you could see her expression when she watched the playback. Most of them are perfectionists.”
Biles practically could have sat down on her next vault, the Cheng, and still won the gold, and yet she performed even better than on the first vault. Biles scored a 16.033.
She added the Cheng, named after Cheng Fei, a three-time vault world champion from China, to her repertoire to increase her difficulty. The deficit had kept her from winning the world title.
“I’m just super excited because I was able to upgrade my second vault and it’s exactly what I needed to do,” Biles said. “I had been working on it on and off for a year, but it was never quite ready to do because sometimes I would just get lost in the air.”
She wasn’t lost Sunday. And despite a two-day break from competition, in which she briefly visited with her family on Friday, Biles was definitely not rusty after continuing her usual regimen.
“It’s too late if you try to do change what you do now,” she said, “if you’ve been so well-prepared for this. So we just do what we do on the daily.”
That means: Eat, sleep, massage and practice.
Before the competition, Boorman said Biles didn’t seem nervous at all. “She was kind of quiet in the warmup gym, but I think she was thinking about sticking the vaults,” Boorman said. “And I was like, just focus on great execution, because if you execute properly, you’re going to stick. Then she kind of lightened up, especially when we came out on the competition floor. She got a little more giggly and that’s normally her thing.
“When she’s relaxed, she’s better.”
While she still has two more days of competition, Biles also has “Life after Rio” in the back of her mind.
There are rumblings about “Dancing with the Stars,” which invited gymnasts Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin and Aly Raisman to compete in past editions. “I think ‘Dancing with the Stars’ would be so cool,” Biles said. “I can’t dance, but that’s what it’s for. But I don’t know, we’ll be so busy, we have tour, but if that happens and I could do it, that’d be amazing.”
Boorman said that the gymnasts are unaware of the immensity of attention they’re receiving at home. “We’re in this Olympic bubble and they’re like, ‘This is fun, we’re winning medals,’ and it’s like when we get home, they have no idea what’s to come. It’s going to be interesting.”
Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci reportedly said that for Biles to be truly the greatest, she’d have to compete in more than one Olympic Games.
“We haven’t even talked about it,” Boorman said. “She wants to have fun. Not that gymnastics isn’t fun, but she wants to have like ‘normal people fun.’”
But at age 19, Biles is young enough to come back for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
After all, 41-year-old Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan placed seventh in her seventh straight Olympic Games, dating back to 1992. Chusovitina won a silver in the vault eight years ago while competing for Germany.
The odds of Biles competing at age 41? Her face turned serious and she shook her head.
“It’s amazing that she’s still going and that she’s so strong at what she does,” Biles said of Chusovitina, who trains in Houston near Biles. “I can’t even. I couldn’t do that at 41, no.”
How about 30? “No,” Biles said. “You should have a family at 30.”
Well, then, 23?
“How old am I now? 19,” Biles said. “That’s bearable because Aly’s 22 and we all see what she does at this age, it’s possible.”
For now, she’s still absorbing what’s happened at this Olympic Games and the remarkable run that impresses even a perfectionist like her.
“Sometimes if I’m like laying in bed, I’m impressed with myself,” Biles said brightly, “or I woke up the other morning and Laurie (Hernandez) was like, ‘Hey, Simone. You did it. You really won.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yes I did!’
And she did it again.