THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The very nature of the Olympic Games, be it the summer or winter version, means that every four years athletes become role models for future generations. Superstars are made for future generations to aspire to, to emulate and surpass. Images are set that will live forever. This could be a celebration, a moment of release after realizing a dream that has been years in the making. Athletes across all sports will do their best to beat their personal best in the hope that will be enough to earn a podium place, maybe even the ultimate of a gold medal. Some will already have achieved such greatness and wish to repeat their past success on the biggest stage of all.
Simone Biles is one athlete aiming to do just that - to relive the glory of her past. Born in March 1997, Biles is one of the most decorated gymnasts in Team USA history, after being at just one Olympics, Rio 2016. She trails Shannon Miller, who competed in 1992 and 1996, by just two medals after her five collected in Rio. More impressively four of those five were gold, and that puts her joint seventh in the all-time gold medal winners in women's Olympic gymnastics history.
Biles was already a prolific medal winner. She had 13 golds across varied events and championships since she burst onto the scene at junior level in 2011. She did not see immediate success and had to wait until 2013, her first senior year, before gaining a place on the podium. A silver was earned in the All-Around at the FIG World Cup in Worcester, Massachusetts. At the World Championships in Antwerp that year she gained a silver on vault and a bronze on the balance beam, gold was achieved in the All-Around and Floor Exercise, which put her firmly on center stage.
From there Biles' career saw unlimited success in the main events, which was capped off with her stunning display in Rio. A clean sweep of golds in all four rotations was only missed when she under-rotated on the beam after a front tuck; she grabbed the beam, triggering a mandatory 0.5-point deduction. She still gained a bronze, and along with her teammates secured the overall team gold too. This was the first time an American gymnast had won four golds at one Olympics. It was the first time it had been achieved by an athlete from any nation since 1984, and only the fifth time it has ever happened. To honor her, Team USA gave her flag bearing duties at the closing ceremony, another first for an American female gymnast.
Biles took the next year off. Her stardom had made her into a celebrity, and she was happy to promote her book, which rocketed to number one in the New York Times bestsellers list. She also took part in Dancing with The Stars, but despite being favored to win she exited the competition with one week left. Back on the mat in 2018 and into 2019 she won more gold. Four in total in the Doha World Championships, then in Stuttgart a year later she became the first gymnast since 1958 to win five golds at a single World Championships.
Now, a year after being out of competitive action due to the pandemic, the eyes of the world are on her again. Focus on her every move as she attempts both personal gold and helping her team bring home another - expected - gold. Like so many others, lockdown affected her. She was in isolation at a time when she was primed to perform. Tokyo seemed so distant when it was postponed for a year and, like so many others that gear up for an Olympic cycle, her plans were put on ice and she had to dwell on it alone. She has recently told Sports Illustrated magazine, "I kind of let myself go through all the emotions. It's the first time in my life I've ever felt the emotions rather than somebody coming up to me and telling me 'Hey, it's gonna be OK'" She put herself through the mill - but isn't that what great athletes do to get to the top? She knows that her sport is one that robs you of a large part of your childhood, and growing up she's had to level herself at times: "It sucks when you reach your peak at 23, 24, you know? Because it's all downhill from there."
After this Olympics in Tokyo, her life will change dramatically. How she adapts may prove to be an even greater challenge, "That's a big task. Making sure it goes up from there." You have a feeling that Biles will rise to the challenge, but only after she has risen the steps of the podium a few more times in the coming weeks.