Gymnastics-Biles greatness ready for ultimate test in Tokyo
TORONTO, June 28 (Reuters) – Since the Rio Olympics in 2016, gymnastics headlines have been hard to read as the sport is wracked with horrific athlete abuse and cover-ups.
Meanwhile, only one scenario has succeeded in fending off scandals and the sport will be counting on Simone Biles to do it again at the Tokyo Olympics.
With Biles being one of the main attractions of the Tokyo Games, gymnastics officials hope the 24-year-old American’s exploits can make a tarnished sport shine while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese organizers need someone to illuminate the extravaganza struck by the pandemic.
That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a 4ft 8in (142cm) athlete, no matter how wide and powerful her shoulders are.
But this is perhaps the truest test of Biles’ greatness – his ability not only to win medals, but to do so in a way that allows people to forget, even for a brief time, the troubles and the troubles that engulfed both the sport and the Games.
By simple accounting, Biles is already one of the greatest of all time.
Her 25 world championship medals, including 19 gold, are more than any other male or female gymnast.
She performs gravity-defying skills that no other gymnast can come close to performing – and all of them did with breathtaking power and grace.
Even Biles appears to have accepted her GOAT status (the tallest ever) as she competed in the U.S. Gymnastics Championships with a glitter goat engraved on her leotard.
She was given the ultimate honor of having an item named after her – not just one but four (one on vault, one on beam and two on floor).
Biles was so far ahead of the field in the recent U.S. Gymnastics Championships that she didn’t even need to pop out her show caps like the Yurchenko double carp jump – that she’s the only woman to land in competition – to secure a record seventh overall title.
Having won every general competition she has competed in since 2013, Biles might be the safest thing to win a gold medal in Tokyo.
“He is a person who has already left his mark in history,” Nikita Nagornyy, the men’s all-around world champion, told Reuters. “The whole world is talking about her.
“We can just admire his performance and be proud of it.”
Biles’ Olympic resume includes five medals, four gold, from the Rio 2016 Games and every prediction is that she could improve on this course in Tokyo.
She is the overwhelming favorite to defend her all-around title and lead the United States to the team gold medal.
There will be more opportunities on the four individual apparatus. If she won a medal in each of those events, the American would be tied for second place on the all-time list of Olympic medals won by female gymnasts alongside Czechoslovakian Vera Caslavska with 11 and behind just l Soviet Union Larisa Latynina on 18.
She needs three to overtake Shannon Miller as America’s most decorated gymnast, while four would give her a total of 34 world and Olympic medals that would surpass the record of 33 held by Russian Vitaly Scherbo.
The Olympic stage is set for Biles, but it’s unclear if she’ll use it for more than just medals.
The American denounced sexual abuse and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. And when media around the world have their chance in Tokyo, questions about the trauma inflicted on hundreds of young gymnasts, including Biles, by former US team doctor Larry Nassar will be inevitable.
“I don’t know how an athlete prepares to talk about something so heavy, however, that’s the situation we find ourselves in right now,” Biles teammate Laurie Hernandez told Reuters in Rio.
“It’s quite a job multitasking and having to deal with these things and that makes it more difficult, however, that’s who we are and what we’re trained to do.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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