Simone Biles joined the ranks of gymnastics legends on Thursday with stardom awaiting the Cinderella who has overcome a difficult past to claim the coveted Olympic women’s all-around title for a second gold in Rio.
The 19-year-old Texan, whose life story is worthy of a Hollywood movie, etched her name alongside the greats of the sport such as Nadia Comaneci.
Comaneci, the 1976 Montreal gold medallist and first to earn a perfect 10.0 score, was like Biles coached by Romanian Martha Karolyi, who defected to the United States in 1981.
And Karolyi, who will retire after many years coaching the US’ top gymnasts after Rio, predicted great things for her young prodigy.
“I’m sure she will be a big star. She’ll be a millionaire,” said 73-year-old Karolyi.
“There are so many things she wants to do. She’s such a happy, smiley girl with a positive attitude.
“She told me she would take a year off and go to college.”
Biles was so dominant that she could have fallen twice and still romped to the all-around title.
Apart from a hop on the landing of her opening vault she gave a confident display of gravity-defying tumbles, twists and flips on her maiden Games to win by 2.100 points over US teammate Aly Raisman.
“Congratulations @Simone_Biles and @Aly_Raisman What a beautiful success…,” tweeted Comaneci, who was among the spectators in the Rio Olympic Arena.
Biles scored highest on three of four rotations — beam, vault and floor — to keep on track for a record haul of five gold at one Games with finals on those apparatus to come.
Five golds would see her overtake Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romanian Ecaterina Szabo (1984), who have all won four at the same Games.
As well as being the first to win three consecutive all-around world titles last October, she has won more world gold medals — 10 — than any other female gymnast in history.
– Obscurity to stardom –
A second gold in Rio after Tuesday’s team title has completed the incredible rise in just three years from obscurity to stardom for the 1.45m (4ft 9ins) gymnast who had to overcome early difficulties in her life.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Biles moved to Texas at the age of three to be brought up along with her younger sister by her maternal grandparents Ron and Nellie Biles.
The couple adopted the children after their mother was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Two other siblings were adopted by Ron’s sister.
“I saw Martha in the mixed zone,” said Biles after her success.
“A few years ago she said something like: ‘You are this bouncy kid, I am not sure about you.’ But here we are.”
Biles’ grandparents, who she calls ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, and siblings were cheering in the stands in Rio as she collected her second gold.
“I tried to see them in the crowd but they started taking pictures,” she said.
“It means so much to me because they are the ones who brought me up. It’s just extra motivation. I wanted to do it for them.”
Her composure finally cracked when she finished off her Samba floor routine, hugging Raisman as they both tearfully waited for their results to come up.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ve finally done it,’ and when that hits you, you can’t stop the emotions,” said Biles.
“I was very proud.”
For Raisman silver was like gold behind a teammate who is in another league.
“No one goes into this thinking they can beat Simone,” Raisman said.
“I’m sure most people don’t go into it (the men’s 100m) thinking they can beat Usain Bolt either, so it’s kind of the same thing.”
But Biles dismissed talk of stardom.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.
“I’m not a celebrity. I’m just the same Simone. I just have two Olympic Gold medals now.”
But she is flattered by recognition from idols such as Comaneci: “I feel we’re following in her footsteps. It’s awesome that she retweets my tweets. It’s so cool.” – Agence France-Presse