April 17, 2024

ANTWERP, Belgium — Not even a slight stumble near the end could stop Simone Biles. Less than three months after returning to competition, the American superstar is back at the top of world gymnastics again.

Biles overcame a late blip in her floor routine after an otherwise dominant performance to win the individual all-around title at the world championships for the sixth time on Friday and become the most decorated gymnast in history.

Even for someone who has now stood atop that world championship podium 21 times, that was enough to draw some tears during the medal ceremony in Antwerp — the Belgian city where Biles started her collection of titles a decade ago as a 16-year-old.

“You guys are actually never going to believe me, but I’ve had something in my eye for like four hours today that I could not get out,” Biles said. “So whenever I was staring at the podium, if I look up, it really hits my eye.”

Biles then acknowledged she was moved.

“Because 10 years ago, I won my first worlds. Now we’re back here. So it was emotional,” she said. “It means everything to me, the fight, everything that I’ve put in to get back to this place, feel comfortable and confident enough to compete.”

Biles scored 58.399 points across the balance beam, floor, vault and uneven bars to beat Rebeca Andrade, the Brazilian defending champion, by 1.633 points. Biles’ U.S. teammate Shilese Jones took the bronze medal with 56.332 points.

It was Biles’ 27th world championship medal — and 21st gold. It came two days after the four-time Olympic gold medalist led the U.S women to a record seventh straight win in the team event.

And it came after a two-year break following her appearance in the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, which was plagued by a bout with a mental block known as “the twisties.” She was expected to repeat as individual all-around champion in Tokyo but removed herself from competition to focus on her mental well-being.

She said the therapy sessions and the breathing and visualization exercises she has been doing on a regular basis since have helped her recover.

“I was so much more nervous for team finals because that’s when everything occurred [in Tokyo], so I was a little bit traumatized from that. So today I felt a little bit more relaxed,” she said. “So I’m happy that that’s over.”

Biles now has 34 medals across the world championships and Olympics, making her the most decorated gymnast ever — male or female — at the sport’s two signature events ahead of the retired Vitaly Scherbo.

Her six all-around world titles also ties the all-time record.

“Every day I try to think about it, especially in therapy when we talk about it,” Biles said about her record-breaking achievements. “And I think that’s when all the emotions come up. And I really think about what I’ve done and what we’ve done to the sport and push that forward. So I think it’s really exciting. But all in all, I don’t think it will hit me until I retire and then look back and see everything I’ve done.”

Biles’ only blip came right at the end as she was about to wrap up her floor routine. After a near-flawless display, she tripped near the end of her routine as she was about to enter a sequence of leaps. But she recovered in style, and it didn’t cost her enough of a points deduction to rob her of the gold.

“I know my parents had a heart attack,” Biles told her coach.

With the Olympics Games in less than a year in Paris, Biles is back to her very best. And despite the fierce competition from Andrade and Jones, she remains a cut above the rest — a full decade after she started her reign.

“She is like wine — she is better with age,” her coach, Cecile Landi, said.

After announcing her return, she impressed at the U.S. Classic in early August, then added her eighth national title a few weeks later. She is competing at her first world championships since 2019 this week.

Biles received the loudest round of applause during the athlete presentation, with Andrade’s name also welcomed by loud cheers.

Biles, Jones and Andrade competed in the same rotation, kicking off their contest at vault. Jones got off to a solid start, nailing a double-twisting Yurchenko with a small hop that earned her 14.233 points.

In her blue leotard, Biles then opted for a Cheng vault — not the more difficult Yurchenko double pike she pioneered during the team qualifying — and was nearly perfect in her execution, getting 15.100 points. Andrade, the defending champion, also attempted a Cheng but her execution was not as good as Biles’ and she had to be content with 14.700.

Even at her weakest apparatus, the uneven bars, Biles still managed a 14.333 that put her in the lead ahead of Andrade, who after a long wait produced a superb bar routine and reduced the gap to her American rival to just 0.233 points before they moved to the balance beam.

Biles looked a bit shaky as she mounted the beam, but the rest of her routine was excellent. Jones delivered a great display to move to second place overall and was warmly hugged by Biles after her effort.

Andrade bounced out of bounds seconds before she wrapped up her floor routine, a fluffed last step that marred an otherwise brilliant display. The mistake cost her three-tenths of a point, but not her silver medal.

Biles and Jones took pride in the fact that three athletes of color stood on the podium.

“We had our Black podium of girls,” Biles said. “So I thought that was amazing. Black girl magic. So, hopefully it just teaches all the young girls out there that you can do anything.”

Jones agreed.

“I feel like sometimes young girls are like, ‘Oh, I can’t do it because of my skin tone,’ but really just believe in yourself and anything is possible,” Jones said.

Biles’ competition continues this weekend with the women’s vault and uneven bars finals on Saturday and the balance beam and floor exercise finals on Sunday.

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