RIO DE JANEIRO — In a world of Olga, Nadia and Mary Lou — where the first name is the only necessary identifier — we give you Simone.
Simon Biles is the full name, but in reaching the top of the gymnastics mountain by winning the Olympic all-around women’s title, the last name was rendered unnecessary Thursday. History is created every day at the Olympics, but Biles, a three-time world champion, came into Rio as the most decorated gymnast of her era even before competing in the Games.
In gymnastics, the Olympics are the necessary imprimatur. Now it’s Simone’s world and the rest, even hugely talented U.S. teammate Aly Raisman, a joyful silver medalist in the all-around, are all just dropping by for a visit.
“No one goes into this thinking they can beat Simone,” said Raisman, who lost the all-around bronze in the 2012 Olympics on a tiebreaker. “I’m sure most people don’t go into it thinking they can beat Usain Bolt either.”
Biles beat Raisman by a big margin, 2.1 points, and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, took the bronze, repeating her finish in London. It was the second time the U.S. women went 1-2 in the all-around, having also done so in 2008.
Biles, 19, cemented her place in gymnastics lore, but it was going to take time to sink in.
“It’s me now, so it doesn’t seem real,” Biles said. “I’m still just the same Simone; I just have two Olympic gold medals now.”
Raisman’s floor exercise routine packed an emotional wallop and drew a score of 15.433. At the finish, her face told a story of four years of perseverance and sacrifice after deciding to go for it again after London. Biles was the final competitor and had to follow Raisman’s show-stopper.
Biles and Raisman were in the same rotation all day, along with Mustafina. The two Americans uncorked powerful Amanars on their opening rotation — the vault — and both had hops on their landings.
The uneven bars is the weakest event for Biles, relatively speaking. She led after the first rotation and was passed by Mustafina after the bars, and stood in second place and Raisman dropped from second to fourth.
Mustafina is the defending Olympic champion on the uneven bars and Biles was just happy to move on to the balance beam.
“That’s a normal score for me,” Biles said. “I wasn’t upset. I was just relieved that bars were over because I’ve been struggling with that.”
To see another name ahead of Biles, even briefly, looked odd.
“If the rotation had been different she wouldn’t have been behind at all,” Boorman said. “We gave her (Mustafina) that 15 minutes.”
The balance beam can be a nervy affair. Biles stayed on, despite a tense early wobbly moment, and built a 1.5-point lead heading into the floor exercise. Raisman moved up to third, just a shade behind Mustafina, and then put down the performance of her life on the floor.
Raisman, 22, finally had the all-around medal, which had seemed so elusive.
“It’s very satisfying,” she said. “You should never let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything. You should never give up because you failed — not that I consider that a failure — but sometimes mistakes are the best thing that can happen to you.’
The expectations on Biles were almost like the ones faced by Bolt or swimmer Michael Phelps before the Olympics in 2008. There was talk about Biles winning five gold medals and needing an all-around medal to secure her legacy as the greatest gymnast ever.
Biles had the top score in three of the four events Thursday. The drive for five golds will resume with the individual finals next week, but Boorman believed that the “greatest” question had been answered.
“I think so because a lot of people said she wouldn’t be the greatest until she wins the Olympic all-around,” Boorman said, smiling, adding, “So, mic drop.”