Simone Biles

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Simone Biles

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The greatest gymnast on the planet turns 20 today.

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Her four gold medals in Rio set an American record for most golds in women’s gymnastics at a single Games. Despite having only competed on the international stage for four years, Biles owns the most world medals [14] in U.S. history and most world championship gold medals [ten] of any American female gymnast. In 2015, she became the first woman to win three consecutive all-around titles at the World Championships. One year later, she became the first woman in 42 years to win four straight all-around U.S. national championships.

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Born in Columbus, Ohio, on this date in 1997, Simone Arianne Biles was the third of four children born to unmarried,drug-addicted parents. The children were in and out of foster care until Simone’s grandfather, Ron, and his second wife, Nellie, began caring for the children in their home in Spring, Texas, when Simone was three. Originally from Cleveland, Ron Biles served in the United States Air Force before becoming an air traffic controller for the FAA. Nellie, a nurse, emigrated from Belize. The couple adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria, in 2003. Ron’s sister adopted the two older children. Simone Biles first tried gymnastics at six as part of a day-care field trip. Showing promise, the instructors sent her home with a note suggesting she continue in the sport. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in a training program at Bannon’s Gymnastix in Houston, about 20 miles south of the family home in Spring. Biles was doing backflips by age seven. At eight, she began working with Aimee Boorman, who later headed the 2016 USA women’s gymnastics team.

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When she was ten, Biles began competing as a level 8 gymnast. Within three years, she had cemented her standing at the junior elite level. In 2011, she earned top finishes in several prestigious meets throughout the U.S. The following year, she switched from public school to home schooling, allowing her to increase training from 20 hours a week to 32. The change allowed Biles to focus on her two weakest events—balance beam and uneven bars—and her improvement was dramatic. After a solid showing at the 2012 National Championships, she was named to the U.S. Junior National Team. One year later, she made it to the top of the ladder and earned a spot on the senior team.

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Simone Biles made her senior international debut in 2013. Following a poor performance at the U.S. Classic, she worked out privately with the national team coordinator, Marta Karolyi, and consulted a sports psychologist. The turnaround was astounding, as she went on to take first place in all-around and second in all four individual events at the 2013 USA National Championships en route to being named to the Senior National Team. Biles then went to the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp and became the seventh U.S. woman—and first African-American—to win the all-around title. At the USA nationals the following year, she repeated as all-around champion despite falling from the balance beam during her final routine. Biles won gold on vault and floor, silver on balance beam, and finished fourth on uneven bars. That fall, she dominated the world championships, claiming four golds, including the all-around. Biles won every gymnastics meet she entered in 2015 while setting records for the largest margin of victory along the way. After winning titles at the 2016 Pan Pacific and U.S. Nationals competition, she was the prohibitive favorite coming into the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

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The 2016 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team dubbed themselves the “Final Five” in honor of Marta Karolyi, who was leading Team USA for the last time in her long and illustrious coaching career. In one of the most dominant team performances in Olympic gymnastics history, the Americans—led by Biles—claimed a medal in every event for the first time since 1984 and captured the team gold medal. Biles entered four individual events, took gold in three [all-around, vault, floor exercise], and claimed the bronze in balance beam. She joined Mary Lou Retton, Shannon Miller and Nastia Liukin as the only American female gymnasts to win five medals at a single Olympic Games. Following her historic performance, Miss Biles was chosen by the entire U.S. Olympic Team to be the flag bearer for the closing ceremonies. She remains the only American female gymnast to be given that honor.

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Since joining the senior ranks in 2013, Simone Biles has broken or tied every record in women’s gymnastics and has been called the most talented gymnast to ever compete. Like Serena Williams and LeBron James, Simone brings an explosive athleticism never before seen in her sport. Her superiority is so plain to see that even those unfamiliar with the sport can understand it. At 4’8” and 105 pounds, she generates an energy that enables her run faster and jump higher than her competitors. Power events—floor and vault—have always been her strength, but she is so versatile and talented that she is also a two-time world champion on balance beam. Simone has claimed 21 international medals—16 of them gold—in only four years of competing. Gymnastics awards points based on degree of difficulty, and Biles boasts the highest start values on three of the four events in which she competes. The difficulty of her moves, coupled with flawless execution, makes her virtually unbeatable. Like the two Mikes—Jordan and Phelps—she is in a class by herself. Gymnastics events are generally won by fractions. Tenths or hundredths of a point victories are common. Simon Biles is so dominant that she fell off the balance beam at the 2014 national championships and won by four points. Ditto in 2015, when she fell again and won by almost five.

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Female gymnasts generally peak in their mid-to-late teens, and the window of opportunity to capitalize on success is small. After graduating home school in July 2015, Simone Biles turned down a full scholarship offer from UCLA in order to turn pro. She trains seven hours a day, five days a week, and takes Saturdays and Sundays off. The 2016 AP Female Athlete of the Year and 2016 USA Gymnastics Athlete of the Year currently has endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, United Airlines, Hershey’s, Proctor & Gamble, and Kellogg’s. Simone’s younger sister, Adria, is also a gymnast. Following the 2016 Rio Games, Biles and the Final Five embarked upon a 36-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. At six, Simone Biles went on a day-care outing and simply copied what she saw others doing. Today, an entire nation of young gymnasts are attempting to copy her.

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