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On 31 July 2012, Simone Biles, aged 15, was with her teammates in the Bannon’s Gymnastix training centre in Houston (Texas). Their coach had installed a giant screen, on which they could watch the American “five” (Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber) win the team all-around competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “I never thought about competing in the Olympic Games when I was growing up,” she says; but on that day, while training to reach the highest international level, a thought crossed her mind. “Wow! I took part in a training camp with Kyla and Jordyn! Perhaps I can be there myself one day!”
Born in Columbus (Ohio) on 14 March 1997, at the age of six Simone went on a day-care field trip to Bannon's Gymnastix. She had a great time there, watching the other young gymnasts and trying to copy their movements. One of the coaches present immediately spotted her potential and alerted his colleagues. A letter was sent to Simone’s parents, encouraging them to let her take recreational classes. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Simone progressed rapidly at junior level with a preference for three of the exercises: floor, balance beam and vault. She also excelled in the all-around competition. After moving up from national to international level, she competed in her first World Championships in Antwerp (Belgium) in 2013. That was when she got known worldwide. The lively young American set about winning four medals: gold in the floor and individual all-around, silver in the vault and bronze on the beam. She also finished fourth on the uneven bars.
At the time when she was dominating gymnastics in her home country, with wins in the individual all-around competition and on her favourite apparatus, Simone had to treat a shoulder injury at the start of the 2014 season. But she bounced back, and at the World Championships in Nanning (China) in September, she took four gold medals, in the individual all-around and the team competition with the USA, in the floor exercises and on the balance beam. Plus a silver medal in the vault.
In 2015 in Glasgow, Simone Biles became the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles, surpassing the legendary Russian gymnast Svetlana Korkhina, who also won three world all-around titles, but not consecutively (in 1997, 2001 and 2003). She once again helped the USA to win the team competition, defended her floor and beam titles, and placed third in the vault. This made her America’s most successful female gymnast (14 medals), and the first to win 10 World Championships titles. In just three appearances!
Simone Biles began the Olympic season on 10 April 2016 at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett (Washington). She entered only the all-around competition, with a floor exercise to the music from the film “Rio”, including some samba steps! The Games are approaching! “If the audience likes it, I’ll keep this routine,” she said. They did, and Simone achieved the best score, as she did on all the other apparatus except the asymmetric bars, easily winning the event. “The reaction of the public plays a very important role. It gives us an adrenaline boost, especially when people start to shout and clap their hands in time with the music. That really helps us to go on.”
On the day after the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, on 6 August in the Rio Olympic Arena, the Brazilian public will be able to see the fantastic Simone Biles for themselves. Their enthusiasm is bound to inspire her with the energy she needs to shine in her gymnastics performances.
“There’s a lot that goes into our mental preparation. We’re mainly working on consistency, precision and confidence. I think whenever you’re confident in all of your skills and routines, that’s when you do your best. There’s no right or wrong way to prepare mentally, but we do a lot of work on pressure so we know how to handle it whenever we go out and compete.”
“It’s very exciting that I could possibly be representing the United States at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. What the USA girls achieved in London [winning the team gold medal] has been very inspiring, because I’m going down the same path that they travelled. I’m just really excited for the journey ahead.”
“Before a big event, I usually go to church and light a candle for St Sebastian, who is the patron saint of athletes. I also have a collection of turtle figurines that I take with me to events. Whenever I travel, I try to get a new one. I don’t know where it came from, although my mum used to call me her ‘little turtle’. One of them has a ladybird on the back for good luck.”
“I started gymnastics when I was six years old. I was at day care and they took us on a field trip to a gym club, Bannon’s Gymnastix in Houston, and that’s how I got started. I progressed pretty quickly because I had a natural talent and I just needed to control it. But it actually didn’t hit me until about three years ago that I could succeed at the highest level, because before that I was always the shortest. Everyone used to come up to me and tell me that I could reach the top, but I never really believed them.”
“Your team-mates are one of the strongest support systems you can have whenever you go out to compete, because they help fill you with so much confidence. We all have this one goal, and we all put 100 per cent effort into the same thing. I think that’s really amazing.”
“You need to have confidence and discipline to be a successful gymnast, and a lot of determination. But gymnastics is a very unique sport. You can have different body types and people who are better suited to certain disciplines than others – it’s different for each individual person. Me, I’m better at floor, vault and beam, so I have to work harder on swinging on bars.”
“When I was younger, I used to find it difficult to recover from particularly hard training sessions or competitions, but now I’m used to it. I know exactly what my body needs, and how it’s going to react after a competition. Mostly, it’s not so much the physical part of me that needs to recover; it’s more mentally. I just need a little mental break.”