If the hardest victories are those that are expected, then Simone Biles faced a herculean task on Thursday in Glasgow. Such was her accepted superiority over a field of women's all-arounders, which has lost much of its former starpower. But even with a few mistakes, this talented 18-year-old became the first woman to win three straight all-around golds. (Russian Svetlana Khorkina is the only other woman to win three world all-around crowns: 1997, 2001, 2003.) And in deference to former legends, the world championships were once a quadrennial event, held on the even years between Olympics.
Biles, however, is definitely writing her own unique chapter of gymnastics history, and all with a smile on her face. She wasn't perfect tonight, but still won by more than a full point. After hopping forward after her huge Amanar vault (15.833), she never trailed. Her routine on uneven bars, her weakest event, was actually her cleanest performance overall (14.900).And her balance beam routine was going smoothly until she landed off balance after a front salto, a mistake that caused both hands to touch the apparatus (14.40). On floor, as the final competitor of the meet, she bounced out of bounds on the split jump that followed her double layout-half, but she still landed the four most difficult tumbling passes of the entire meet (layout full-out; double layout-half; tucked double-double; tucked full-in).
With so much difficulty and amplitude, however, Biles scored 60.399 to win the gold. Teammate and 2012 Olympic champion Gabrielle Douglas clinched the silver with 59.316, and Romania's Larisa Iordache, who had placed 16th in qualifications, began with the highest beam score of the meet (14.766) and continued her inspired effort to take the bronze (59.107).
"I know it wasn't my best meet, but I'm still proud of the outcome," said Biles, who also commmented on being the first woman to win three titles in a row. "I'm still in shock. I feel very weird, and I guess it's maybe how Kohei (Uchimura) feels. I feel really proud of myself."
Douglas was satisfied with second place, but hinted that she has yet to reach her potential. "My beam was not my normal," she said. "I had a double twist on vault — no two and a half — and mistakes on beam and bars, and no upgrades. I'll take it."
Iordache, on the other hand, was thrilled to put the qualifications behind her.
"I feel much better now than on Friday," she said. "I have a medal, I have flowers and I am happy."
China's Shang Chunsong, who also avoided a costly fall, finished fourth (58.265). She dropped out of the top three in the final rotation, when she vaulted only a Yurchenko-full (13.866).
A few medal contenders suffered falls, including fifth-place Giulia Steingruber (flip-flop, layout on beam), Ellie Black (flip-flop, full on beam) and Wang Yan (roundoff, layout on beam; 2.5 twist, punch front on floor).
But this meet was all about Biles and her quest to make history. Her rise to the top of the sport was sudden. In her final year as a junior in 2012, she placed third at the U.S. championships, behind Lexie Priessman and Madison Desch, and ahead of Bailie Key. Her surge to the top began in 2013, when she won the senior U.S. title by 0.20 over Kyla Ross, and the world tile by 0.884, again over Ross. In 2014 she defeated Ross by a massive 4.25 at nationals, but her second world title over Iordache was relatively close, 60.231-59.765. This year she ran away with her third straight U.S. title, defeating Maggie Nichols, 124.10-119.15. It wasn't a fair fight. And tonight, even with the major break on beam and poor landings on vault and floor, she still won by a wide margin.
After the top three gymnasts, the scores dropped severely, ranging from Shang's 58.265 to 24th-place Flavia Saraiva's 53.232. And as Biles and Douglas competed their routines with relative ease, most of their challengers seem to be pushing the limits of difficulty.
With Douglas still not at her 2012 level in terms of difficulty, Biles will likely continue to upgrade her routines to stay ahead. Her coach, Aimee Boorman, has been brilliant in developing Biles' routines over time. And even if the drama of the women's all-around has somewhat fizzled, it will be interesting to see the 2016 version of Biles, who will have a chance to run the table on this quadrennium in Rio next summer. That's what happens when you win three world titles in a row. Expectations grow, and at the 2016 Olympics, Biles will face the biggest task of her career.
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