After taking two years off following the 2020 Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles has returned in style, becoming the most decorated gymnast of all time with 37 medals after winning four at the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships, passing Belarus gymnast Vitaly Scherbo, who was tied with her at 33.
Biles started her elite career at age 11, and in 2013, at just age 16, she became a household name after winning two World Championship golds in the Individual All-Around and floor exercise. She followed this up in 2014 by winning four gold medals, repeating the all-around and floor while also winning team and balance beam and winning silver in the vault. Biles received gold on all four again in 2015, punching her ticket to the 2016 Olympics.
It was in the 2016 Olympics that Biles would shine the brightest. Entering the games as the heavy favorite, she did not disappoint. After helping Team USA win gold, defeating the Russian team by over eight points, she qualified as the top gymnast in four of five rounds. In the all-around, Biles would dominate, scoring 62.198, two full points ahead of fellow American Aly Raisman.
After taking 2017 off from competition, she would return in 2018, though the year would be remembered for Team USA’s gymnasts, including Biles, coming out with allegations of sexual assault against former trainer Larry Nassar. Nassar would receive 40 to 175 years in prison for his crimes.
Even after taking a year off, Biles qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, becoming just the third Olympian for Team USA since the turn of the millennium to compete in back-to-back Olympics, following Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Amy Chow. While Biles entered the games as the heavy favorite to repeat gold in her events. That was far from what happened.
While doing warm-ups for the first rotation of the team final, she balked twice on vault, doing a 1.5 twist instead of the 2.5 she was supposed to perform and landing awkwardly, nearly falling. Following this, she would leave the floor and withdraw from all competitions except for the balance beam. Biles would go on to say she chose not to compete due to her own mental health and stress.
“I say put mental health first,” Biles would state afterward. “It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are rather than just battle through it.”
In her absence, Team USA would rally, earning second place in the team final, and her absence from the other events would prove to be a chance of a lifetime for multiple other U.S. Olympians.
Fellow U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee, who always finished second behind Biles in the all-around, seized her opportunity and won gold. With Biles not competing, it allowed for 2016 Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner to compete in her last competition and first Olympics, winning silver in the vault. After being the favorite on vault with Biles absent, Jade Carey faltered, like Biles did, and finished last, though she found redemption one day later, winning gold on the floor. Biles would leave the games with one more medal, as she would repeat bronze on the balance beam, leaving the games on a more positive note.
After taking two years away from gymnastics, Biles would return to Gymnastics 2023 World Championships and prove that she had not missed a step in her absence. In the all-around team final, she scored 58.932, the highest of anyone and two points higher than her teammate Shilese Jones. She placed first in every competition except uneven bars. In the individual all-around, Biles won her sixth all-around gold medal, surpassing Larisa Latynina for most medals in the Olympics and World Championships. She would also win gold on the floor and balance beam while winning silver on the vault.
While Biles might already be the most decorated gymnast of all time, 2023 has shown so far that she is far from done. Even at 26 years old, she is still one of the best and seems to be right on track for qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics held next summer.