Simone Biles soars to AP Female Athlete of the Year
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Simone Biles tried to treat the 2016 Summer Olympics like just your average ordinary gymnastics meet. So what if the stage and the stakes were different?
The floor was still the floor. The vault still the vault. The uneven bars still uneven. The balance beam still a four-inch wide test of nerves.
And the 19-year-old with the electric smile and boundless talent was still the best in the world. She might be the best of all-time.
Over the course of 10 days in August, the biggest meet of her life ended like pretty much all the others in the four years that came before it. Biles was standing atop the podium. She had a gold medal around her neck. The sport she's redefining was staring up at her. Not that she remembers any of it.
"It's kind of a blur," Biles said.
Maybe to Biles, but not to the rest of the world. Her massive haul in Rio de Janeiro included a record-tying four golds to go along with a bronze for the dominant U.S. women's team. The medals propelled her to stardom. And they rendered her last name unneeded. Most fans just call her Simone.
Now there's one more honor to add to what on Twitter is known simply as #SimoneThings. It is Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
In a vote by U.S. editors and news directors, Biles received 31 votes out of a possible 59. U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and a silver in Rio, finished second with 20. Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon for the seventh time, and three-time AP women's NCAA basketball Player of the Year Breanna Stewart tied for third. Each had four votes.
Biles became the fifth gymnast to win the honor. She joins Olga Korbut in 1972, Nadia Comaneci in 1976, Mary Lou Retton in 1984 and Gabby Douglas in 2012. It's company Biles joined while completing a run of dominance that included three straight all-around World Championships. It was a record run at the top in a sport where peaks are often measured in months, not years.
The teenager from Spring, Texas, hardly seemed burdened by the huge expectations. If anything, she embraced them. She opted out of a verbal commitment to compete collegiately at UCLA. Then she turned professional. It allowed her to cash in on the well-paid opportunities afforded an Olympic champion. The decision to turn pro was a bit of a gamble. That's because it was directly tied to what success she would have at the Games.
Yet Biles seemed immune to it. At least on the outside. Inside, there were more than a few butterflies when she stepped onto the floor during team preliminaries. The day was Aug. 7. The butterflies vanished the moment she stepped onto the floor at Rio Olympic Arena. Then she and the rest of her "Final Five" teammates - Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian - put on a clinic. They showcased how big the gap between the Americans and the rest of the world has grown.
Then again, the gulf between Biles and every other gymnast on the planet - even her good friends in red, white and blue - may be even wider.
"In prelims, I did very well. I kind of shocked myself," Biles said. "I came in thinking, 'I've been to three worlds.' I knew the gist of it. Once I got (prelims) out of the way, I just kind of relaxed."
What followed was a run of brilliance. A team gold as a fitting send-off to retiring national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. Another gold came in the all-around two days later. Biles' score of 62.198 bettered Raisman by more than two full points. Think of it as the gymnastics equivalent of winning a football game by three touchdowns. A third gold came on vault. Biles was the first American to win gold in that event at the Olympics.
A bronze on beam followed, thanks to a messy landing on a front flip. It was her only major form break in Rio. No matter, she put the exclamation point on her gold rush with a gravity-escaping floor routine. When it ended, Biles rushed to hug longtime coach Aimee Boorman.
The ensuing four months have been a whirlwind. Biles carried the U.S. flag at Rio's closing ceremonies. She published her autobiography. She took part in a post-Olympic tour with her teammates. (She performed in eight shows despite a fractured rib). And she hung out at the White House with the president. She remains open to giving it another shot at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
But that's for later. In January, she'll sit down and plot out her goals for the year. For the first time since she can remember, gymnastics won't be on the list.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What did the author mean by saying “The uneven bars still uneven?”
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