Miles ahead of the rest, Biles aims high

Gymnastics : The American targets Rio after becoming the first to win three successive all-around titles at the World meet

Miles ahead of the rest, Biles aims high

Lining up alongside her team-mates, no one would have blamed Simone Biles if she felt like standing on her tiptoes, or even slipping on a pair of six-inch heels, when the Americans were introduced to the crowd at the gymnastics World Championships in Glasgow last week.

At just 4 feet 9, Simone Biles' petite frame barely reached the ears of Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who was standing to her right during the pre-competition formalities at the Hydro Arena last Tuesday.

Yet it is thanks to her lack of height that the pint-sized dynamo is head and shoulders above her rivals and is already being feted as the greatest woman to have graced the sport -- even though she has yet to make her Olympic debut. She led the United States to the team gold medal and on Thursday, became woman to win the all-around title three successive times.

Under the careful guidance of her lifelong coach, Aimee Boorman, Biles has become such a force in the sport that her rivals now think she is "wired like a robot".

"She stood out from the beginning. She's been special from the beginning. When she was younger and competing at the lower levels, she had that star quality," Boorman told Reuters in an interview. "She has this ray of light that shoots out of her when she competes. Even when she was eight years old, she could draw in the crowds."

In just three years as a senior, Biles has collected a stack of medals -- including eight gold medals at the worlds. She was too young to compete at London in 2012 but has come a long way since then. Did Biles wish there had been no age restrictions in gymnastics so that she could have competed at the last Olympics?

"No, not at all. I was a complete mess at that age," said Biles, who was adopted by her grandparents 15 years ago after her mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
If she was under any pressure in Glasgow, that wasn’t seem to be evident on Tuesday when Biles' performance dazzled as brightly as her sparkling red leotard as the US swept to a third successive team gold.

She earned 15.966 for her soaring and gravity-defying Amanar vault, 15.200 on the balance beam -- a routine that included her spinning around 900 degrees on her right toes without a wobble in sight -- and 15.733 on the floor.

Her displays have left many of the sport's greats gushing, with 1984 Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton declaring: "She's the most talented gymnast I've ever seen in my life. I think she's unbeatable."

That is certainly true when it comes to all-around competitions. Over the past two years, the 18-year-old has enjoyed a 100 percent record in the event that tests skills across four apparatus. But having become a senior at the start of an Olympic cycle, Boorman knew if Biles wanted to have a shot at glory at the Rio Games, she would have to sustain her levels of excellence for four full years -- a stretch that is beyond most elite gymnasts.
"One of things we faced with her becoming a senior just after the 2012 Olympics was that nobody has ever sustained (being on top) that long. You can't come out on top in your first year and expect to stay on top," explained the 42-year-old Boorman.

"So it's been a balancing act of keeping her healthy and making sure she has fun. Overall I think she'll be able to hold up as she doesn't need to add any difficulty to her routines, she just has to maintain what she's got.

"This (Olympic cycle) has been the perfect timing for her as she's petite and hasn't grown a lot since she became a senior."

As Biles and Boorman head into the most important phase of their 12-year partnership, the coach who considers herself "as the cool aunt rather than a surrogate mother" knows the most important thing she can do for her star pupil is to keep things real. So does that mean they argue?

"Always. We're with each other close to 40 hours in the week so there's obviously going to be conflict," the mother of three boys said. "But we're really good at turning the page. She knows that no matter what happens the day before, the next day she comes into the gym I don't hold a grudge or any animosity.

"I know people think she's an alien but she is actually human. She has bad days too. So when Simone fell at the US Championships, it was like 'Oops. Oh my goodness. What happened? Simone fell. Is her wiring not correct? Somebody check her wiring because that robot who always hits (her routines) just fell'.

"No, she's not a robot - she's a human."

With her mission accomplished in Glasgow, Biles’ next goal will be to avoid becoming the next victim of the 'curse of the world all-around champion'.

Since the event was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1952, only three women have captured back-to-back world and Olympic titles -- Larisa Latynina, Ludmilla Tourischeva and Lilia Podkopayeva.

Champion gymnasts of the calibre of Svetlana Khorkina and Shannon Miller have fallen victim to the 'curse' but Biles is determined she will not be adding her name to the list.

"That's a stat that's been placed into everybody's head that you can peak too soon," Biles said. "We have a peaking pace and I think my pace is just fine. I don't think I have peaked yet."



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