Simone Biles shows us all how it's done
Last updated 10/11/2023 at 3:44pm | View PDF
Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in history last weekend at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.
She won four gold medals - in team, all-around, beam and floor competitions - along with a silver medal in vault. (Her lowest finish in her weakest event, the uneven bars, was fifth.)
The story has some nice symmetry. It was 10 years ago in Antwerp that Biles won her first all-around world title at age 16. In that span she's earned 25 medals (19 gold) at the World Championships and seven (four gold) at the Olympics.
She also took an almost two-year break from competition after pulling out of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Critics were ruthless, but her supporters were even louder.
Since then, she's been busy - personally and professionally. She was named Time Athlete of the Year in 2021 and received the Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden in July 2022. Her photo was featured on a box of Wheaties and award nominations were too numerous to count.
She wrote a book, "Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance" and is the subject of a Facebook Original docuseries titled "Simone vs. Herself."
She's had a full personal life as well, getting engaged to NFL safety Jonathan Owens in February 2022 and married in April of this year.
Then, in August, she returned to competition at the Core Hydration Gymnastics Classic.
"Happy to be back out on the floor!" she posted on Facebook, where she has 1.6 million followers. "This journey has been a roller coaster of emotions. Thank you for believing in me."
Issy Ronald credits her with "redefining the image of a successful athlete" in a CNN article this week.
"The most successful gymnast of her time had shown her fallibility on the biggest stage of all, and as she completed a history-making comeback at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships last week, she completed refashioning those expectations of success," Ronald wrote. "By returning to the world stage in such emphatic style, Biles reimagined that image of a model athlete into someone who can land unprecedented skills at the highest level and is open about her own mental health, someone who is older than traditionally successful gymnasts but still defining her sport."
I wrote a column about Simone after the Olympics in 2021, praising her for her courage and sharing many of the positive comments her fans had posted.
"Winning gold medals is what athletes do. But inspiring people to fight for themselves against all odds is what champions do," was my favorite.
At the time, no one knew what Biles would go on to do. Any one of a number of things could have prevented her from returning to competition - or returning at the level to which she has been accustomed. Had she decided never to compete again, her decision would not have warranted any criticism (although it certainly would have generated some).
But she had the strength to try again, knowing she might once again experience the "twisties." Knowing all those who blasted her in 2021 would be back with their "I told you so's" if she failed. Knowing the world was watching to see if a comeback would in fact be part of her story. And it was.
Maybe the next time someone thinks, "She'll never recover from that," they'll remember Simone Biles, the greatest of all time. And they'll think again.
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].