A Full Revolution: Simone Biles Is the Best Gymnast in the World
almost 2 years ago
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"Two seats away, someone from the Canadian gymnastics federation shrugged and laughed in resigned defeat, which is more or less how the gymnastics world has reacted to Biles since she won her first World Championship, in 2013. “All the girls are like, ‘Simone’s just in her own league. Whoever gets second place, that’s the winner,’ ” Aly Raisman, who was the captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and hopes to return for Rio, has said. Mary Lou Retton, the 1984 Olympic gold medallist, calls Biles the “most talented gymnast I’ve seen in my life.”"
"A few days after Pacific Rims, I met Simone there at nine in the morning, as she began a warmup that involved climbing twenty feet up a rope in five seconds, using only her arms. Biles is four feet eight, but she is all muscle, with jackhammers for legs and a tendency to bounce around a room, whether or not it has mats. The fact that gymnasts wear ribbons and jewel-flecked costumes—Karolyi has sent back leotards because she didn’t think they had enough crystals—can minimize how difficult the sport actually is. When Biles lands on each of her tumbling runs, she hits the ground with the force of two colliding football players, and she spends many nights after practice in a pair of pants that massage her legs with compressed air. She compares the process of getting into shape for competition as “repeatedly convincing yourself you aren’t going to die.”"
"When Biles started to get into gymnastics, in the mid-aughts, the sport was undergoing its first great upheaval since the seventies. At the Munich Olympics in 1972, Olga Korbut, then seventeen, made acrobatic use of her eighty-five-pound frame, dismounting the uneven bars by standing atop one bar and backflipping over the other. A sport that had been dominated by women in their twenties and thirties—the gold medallist in 1968 had nine years, three inches, and forty pounds on Korbut—was now the domain of pixies who could fly. Ballet had turned into trapeze. Four years later, in Montreal, the Romanian Nadia Comaneci, who was fourteen, launched off the beam with a double-twisting backflip where Korbut had daintily flipped off the side. Comaneci earned the sport’s first perfect ten, and was followed by a series of equally agile but formidable girls who dominated the sport, many of them tutored by Comaneci’s coaches, Martha and Bela Karolyi. But by the turn of the century the limitations of the ten-point scale had begun to stunt the sport’s growth. To score well, a gymnast simply had to meet a minimum level of difficulty and not screw up. Gold medals were being given to safe routines that limited mistakes, while gymnasts who pushed the sport’s boundaries received no reward. (At the 2004 Olympics, the men’s competition was stalled for ten minutes while the crowd booed a low score given to the Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov’s high-flying bar routine.) In 2006, the International Federation of Gymnastics did away with the perfect ten, to the initial chagrin of pretty much everyone. “It’s crazy, terrible, the stupidest thing that ever happened to the sport of gymnastics,” Bela Karolyi said at the time. “How could they take away this beautiful, this most perfect thing from us?”"
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