Chalk it up: Simone Biles and the Success of US Gymnastics

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

How often do you watch gymnastics? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably every four years. Just for the Olympics, when it’s “really important.” Unfortunately, if this is you, you’re missing out on a lot of awesome gymnastics.

About a month ago, the US won four of six medals in the women’s competition at the World Championships in Nanning, China. These include a team gold medal as well as individual medals in the all-around, vault, balance beam, and floor exercise. Even on uneven bars, where the US didn’t win a medal, standout American rookie Ashton Locklear placed fourth, only seventeen thousandths of a point away from the bronze. Clearly, the US is a dominant force in women’s gymnastics.

Each member of Team USA contributed to its success, but I’d like to highlight one gymnast who stands out. Simone Biles, 2013 and 2014 National and World Champion, is an American star. Biles qualified for four of five individual event finals, and won three—all around, beam, and floor. She also won the silver medal on vault, only 45 thousandths of a point away from the gold. Biles is an unbelievably talented and unique gymnast; I wouldn’t hesitate to say she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen (and keep in mind, I watch a lot of gymnastics).

Simone lights up the arena when she performs. Her dance on floor is vibrant, her routines are energetic, and she never stops smiling. In a sport where women are often stoic and focused, Simone offers something different.

Biles shines most on floor, where she’s the 2013 and 2014 World Champion. Floor routines usually have four major tumbling passes. The first pass is traditionally the most difficult, and they get easier as the routine progresses. All four of Simone’s passes could be someone else’s opening pass. To give you an idea: lots of gymnasts do a double layout as an opening pass. Simone does this as her third pass. Her second pass, a double layout with a half twist, is named after her, meaning that she was the first to perform it at a World Championships or Olympic Games. Besides including some of the most difficult tumbling in the world, her performance level is excellent. While some argue that Simone’s routine isn’t artistic, it’s hardly for lack of energy. Her style is far from classic or balletic, but that’s just not Simone.

Biles has dominated the World and National Championships for the last two years, so much so that this year, people joked that Nationals should be dubbed “The Simone Biles Invitational.” Despite, or maybe because of her incredible success, lots of gymnastics fans are weary about how long she can last. However, I think one of the special things about Simone is that she actually has the ability to stay on top. Despite the incredible difficulty of her routines, Biles makes them look easy. It’s not hard to imagine her upgrading her skills in order to stay competitive.

That being said, it’s hard to stay at the top for two years prior to the Olympics. Gymnastics doesn’t just happen every four years. So many incredible gymnasts compete between Olympic years, and they often go unrecognized. While you’re waiting around for 2016, there’s a ton of great competition, both in the US and internationally. Biles is easily one of the best gymnasts of our time. Her gymnastics is not something you want to miss.


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    G. Riley says:

    Ha! “Her style is far from classic or balletic, but that’s just not Simone”. Thank you, author, for putting the entire reason for the end of ‘artistic’ gymnastics into one sentence! That’s just not Simone! That’s just not America. Because that’s allll USA gymnastics pumps out anymore. Absolute classless routines with no grace, no dance, no taste. that’s why judges unfairly favor American bodybuilder gymnastics over classically trained gymnasts from other countries. Difficulty has replaced great gymnastics. And so if it doesn’t look like USA… It must not be the best! Simone Biles is at the top of the pile of cookies cut the same way, following in the foot steps of other non- artistic gymnasts such as Aly Raisman, (who can not even stand up gracefully on the beam in between stunts), as well as Gabby Douglas and Jordan Weiber. Goodbye real gymnastics. America has changed the face of women’s gymnastics to look like them or be kicked to the curb. I hope USA enjoys competing against themselves because other countries are going to keep their traditions. How long will it stay interesting when it’s just USA for all the top medals as a given? does Simone Biles enjoy only beating Simone Biles? Sorry. I’m not sorry.

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