RIO DE JANEIRO — Congrats to Aly Raisman, who not only won the silver medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around, but scored her first journalism scoop.
“I knew Simone was going to win,” Raisman said. “I was just hoping I would be able to get second. So it’s very, very special.”
Wait, you knew Simone Biles would win?
Before your floor routine at the end?
Or when you woke up this morning?
“I think everyone knew she was gonna win a couple years ago,” Raisman said, laughing. “We all knew. She’s won every single meet for the last four years.”
Biles was not just the best gymnast in Rio Olympic Arena. She is, by most reasonable measurements, the best ever. She is so good that any comparison must come from other disciplines—not the vault or the floor or the beam, but basketball, swimming or track. She is Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth, so far ahead of her generation’s rivals that it will probably take years for anybody to approach her mastery of the sport.
Somebody asked Raisman if this must be how swimmers feel when they face Katie Ledecky.
“Yes, probably,” Raisman said. “Or Usain Bolt.”
How good was Biles? She finished first on the floor and first on the beam. She was seventh in the uneven bars, her weakest event, and she did not stick her landing on the vault, which led her to say, “I’m still a little upset about vault. I don’t know. I just can’t stick it.”
Of course, she finished first in the vault anyway.
She was first on three of the four apparatuses; if she played baseball, she would be the best at hitting, fielding, pitching and spitting sunflower seeds.
It is no exaggeration to say that Biles is playing a different sport. She easily executes routines that other gymnasts wouldn’t dare try. Her difficulty score on her floor routine was 6.8; only Raisman, at 6.4, was even close. Biles also had the highest difficulty score on the vault (6.3, tied with Raisman) and beam (6.5, all by herself).
Biles’s final score of 62.198 may seem just a little better than Raisman’s 60.098, but in gymnastics, that’s a landslide. Her 2.1 margin of victory was bigger than the margin of victory in the Olympic all-around competition from 1980–2012 combined. That’s Biles. The difference between what she did on the beam and what everybody else did was the difference between building a real house or building one out of Legos.
When someone says “Simone Biles great,” you know it’s better than great. If you’re watching a sport, a task, or an art form, and you know immediately that you are watching the best in the world, then that person is “Simone Biles great.”
The only problem with being “Simone Biles great” is handling it. As Raisman said: “Everybody’s talking about her. Everybody’s expecting her to win gold.”
Biles really accomplished three things Thursday.
The first was embracing the Olympics pressure; her coach, Aimee Boorman, said, “I know when she looks nervous—I thought she was just exuding confidence.”
The second thing Biles accomplished was being “Simone Biles great” without being a jerk about it. If at the age of 19 you poured your energy and time into one endeavor and became the best in the world at it … well, we’ve seen dozens of athletes use that as a license to be arrogant. Not Biles. When Raisman finished that floor routine to clinch silver, Biles seemed happier than Raisman.
“I looked at Simone, and I was like, ‘You can’t look at [Raisman], because we’re both going to start crying,’” Boorman said. “She was like, ‘I know. But I’ve gotta go hug her!’ She went over and was like, ‘Great job and I’m happy for you!’ And she walked away really fast, because she would have started crying. She’s very sensitive to people’s feelings.”
The third thing Biles accomplished, of course, was winning the gold medal.
Biles said that a few years ago, U.S. coach Martha Karolyi never would have believed she would be on the national team, let alone the best in the world. But that may help explain her greatness, too. Like Jordan, Biles was not tabbed for future greatness from a ridiculously young age. Boorman said Biles “didn’t even really get into the elite program seriously until she was 13 or 14,” which is late for the sport.
Boorman said, “You have to avoid burnout. I believe in family vacations. I believe in taking time off. I believe if it’s your best friend’s birthday, you take the day off and go spend it [with him or her]. Because you’re not going to get that time back.”
This may explain why Biles is hyper-focused when she needs to be and relaxed the rest of the time. It may explain why Raisman seemed so happy for her. Biles said that even with the Olympic pressure, she remembered the point of any sport: “Go out there and have fun.” It must be fun to be “Simone Biles great.” Most of us will never know.