Simone Biles starts each year by pulling out a notebook to write down her goals for the next 12 months. When 2016 dawned, for once she didn’t get too specific.
Make the Olympic team. That’s it. Better to just leave things vague.
Besides, who could have written this? Eight days. Five medals. Four of them gold. The last one draped over her neck following one final show-stopping floor exercise on Tuesday.
Whether Biles will leave the games as the best gymnast of all time is up for debate, a topic she will happily leave to others.
“I would never rank myself,” Biles said. “It’s weird.”
She’d rather let her envelope-pushing performance at Rio Olympic Arena do the talking. Her final act was perhaps her greatest. On legs she joked felt like rocks, Biles put together 90 seconds of effortless joy. Her ceiling scraping tumbling and charismatic dancing — set to Brazilian-themed music designed for exactly this moment — ended with her bouncing off the mat before sprinting to the awaiting arms of longtime coach Aimee Boorman.
The two embraced, their journey that began when Biles was 6 ending — at least for now — with history. Biles became the fifth female gymnast to win four golds at a single Olympic meet and the fourth to win them on the traditional events.
Throw in the bronze Biles earned on balance beam Monday and the 19-year-old will have a lengthy checklist when she gets to customs on her way home to Texas.
“I think that she was really consistent, that was a big thing for her,” Boorman said. “That was the goal. Not to come in and win five golds but to show what she trained.”
As for what comes next — besides the stardom that awaits back in the U.S. — Biles is unsure. She’d like to go have a normal life for a bit, at least as normal as it can be when she gets back to suburban Houston. Turning one of the biggest sporting events in the world into your personal showcase has a way of changing things.
“It’s kind of scary with this public eye being on me all the time,” Biles said. “It’s rewarding but I think we’ll get used to it.”
If she needs advice, she doesn’t have to look far. All she has to do is ask good friend and “Final Five” teammate Aly Raisman. The 22-year-old team captain picked up her third medal in Brazil and sixth overall with silver on floor, a moment she wasn’t sure would arrive when she began her methodical comeback two years ago.
“This time was harder than 2012, the training part of it,” Raisman said. “It was kind of hard to top (2012). It’s nice that it was all worth it.”
Raisman’s six medals are the second-most by an American female gymnast at the Olympics. The nine medals the U.S. women captured in Rio are the program’s most in an Olympic meet, a fitting send off for retiring national team coordinator Martha Karolyi.
Husband Bela at her side in the stands, Karolyi fought back tears as the gymnasts she called “the Final Two” leave little doubt as to the widening canyon between the Americans and the rest of the world. Five days after going 1-2 in the all-around, Biles and Raisman did it again with their unparalleled floor routines that including some of the most difficult passes the sport has ever seen.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” said Karolyi, who is stepping down later this month. “I’m going out very happy, very satisfied.”
Whether Raisman is going to join Karolyi in retirement is uncertain. Raisman never thought anything could top London. Yet there she was waving to the crowd on Tuesday afternoon, a gesture that doesn’t mean goodbye. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but for now Tokyo 2020 remains in play.
“Maybe I’m getting better with age,” she said.
For the first time in Rio, the U.S. men’s team managed to keep pace with the women thanks to Danell Leyva. A bronze medalist in the all-around in London, Leyva won silver on high bar and parallel bars within 90 minutes of each other. Heady territory considering Leyva only made the Olympic team after John Orozco went down with a knee injury last month. After finishing a disappointing fifth in team finals, the American men finished with three medals overall after Alex Naddour took bronze on pommel horse.
“This was absolutely redemption, not only for me but for the team as well,” Leyva said.
Men’s all-around silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine took gold on parallel bars, followed by Leyva and David Belyavskiy of Russia. Fabian Hambuechen of Germany finally reached the top step of the podium in the Olympics by claiming the high bar title. A bronze medalist in Beijing and a silver medalist in London, Hambuechen’s score of 15.766 was clear of Leyva’s 15.500. Nile Wilson of Great Britain earned bronze.
Ultimately though, these games belonged to Biles, who planned to celebrate with pizza and some time off. After that, who knows?
“It’s pretty insane what I’ve accomplished in my first Olympics,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
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