Every inch an Olympic icon
Along with her fellow American, swimmer Katie Ledecky, gymnast Simone Biles was the most decorated female athlete at Rio 2016, winning five medals in total, four of them gold and her scintillating performances made her an instant Olympic legend.
Simone Biles was 15 when she sat down with her teammates at the Bannon’s Gymnastix training centre in Houston, Texas, to watch the USA “five” of Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber win team all-around gold at London 2012, an experience that showed her where her future lay. “I never thought about competing in the Olympic Games when I was growing up,” she recalled, before revealing the seed that was planted in her mind that day. “Wow! I took part in a training camp with Kyla and Jordyn! Perhaps I can be there myself one day!”
Where it all beganBorn in Columbus, Ohio, on 14 March 1997 and adopted and raised by her grandparents, Biles was six when she first set foot in Bannon’s Gymnastix. Fascinated by the other young gymnasts, she tried to mimic their movements and proved so adept at it that one of the club’s coaches alerted his colleagues to her obvious potential. A letter was sent to her grandparents, encouraging them to let her take classes. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The start of a fabulous careerBiles made rapid progress at junior level, showing a preference for floor, balance beam and vault, while also excelling in the individual all-around. After distinguishing herself at national level, she made the move up to the international stage and competed in her first World Championships in Antwerp (Belgium) in 2013. In winning four medals (gold in the floor and individual all-around, silver in the vault and bronze on the beam) and also finishing fourth on the uneven bars, she showed that she belonged at the top.
A perfect tenUnrivalled in domestic competitions, the petite Biles had her meteoric progress checked by a shoulder injury sustained at the start of the 2014 season. Making a speedy recovery, she collected four golds at the World Championships in Nanning (China) that September, topping the podium in the individual and team all-around competitions, as well as the floor and balance beam, and also picking up a silver in the vault.
Biles became the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles a year later in Glasgow, surpassing the legendary Russian gymnast Svetlana Korkhina, who collected her three all-around crowns over five world championships between 1997 and 2003. As well as helping her team retain their all-around title, the American star successfully defended her floor and beam titles and placed third in the vault. Her latest haul made her the USA’s most decorated female gymnast at the world championship with 14 medals in total, and the first to win 10 golds, all in just three appearances.