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Armour: Simone Biles simply the greatest ever

USA TODAY SPORTS USA TODAY SPORTS 11/08/2016 by Nancy Armour, USA TODAY Sports
Armour: Simone Biles simply the greatest ever © Provided by USA Today Sports Armour: Simone Biles simply the greatest ever

Simone Biles doesn’t want to get drawn into the debate of where she ranks in history. 

She doesn’t need to.

The gold medal hanging around her neck says it all. The scoreboard added an exclamation point. 

Biles erased whatever lingering doubts there were about whether she’s the greatest gymnast of all time Thursday, winning the Olympic all-around title in a rout. She finished 2.1 points ahead of Final Five teammate Aly Raisman, by far her largest margin of victory in her three-year – and counting -- win streak.

“I would say yes,” Martha Karolyi said when asked if Biles was the greatest ever. “For me, the most special was my first, from Nadia, and the last, from Simone. Those really stand out for me.

“I would put Simone now on top,” she added.

This was not a cliff-hanger, Biles having established her dominance long ago. She hasn’t lost an all-around competition since the spring of 2013, claiming three world titles and four U.S. crowns in the process.

Biles packs so much difficulty into her routines that she starts with a point or two cushion. Other gymnasts have to hope she falls or is sloppy. Which she almost never does and rarely is.

Even Raisman acknowledged she was fighting for second place – or first in the “non-Simone division,” as her fellow Americans have taken to describing it. 

"Just because she wins every single competition,” Raisman said.

Still, those expectations are as tall as they are weighty, especially for a 19-year-old who stands just 4-foot-8.

When the standings after the second rotation flashed and Biles had slipped behind Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, the first time she had trailed in a competition – any competition – in almost three years, it would have been easy to wonder if a small crack was beginning to show.

In a word, no.

Not even close.

Artistic Gymnastics - Women's Individual All-Around Victory Ceremony: Simone Biles of the U.S. poses with her gold medal after the women's individual artistic gymnastics. Simone Biles wins gymnastics gold

“I don’t think she’s even reacting to it,” said Aimee Boorman, the only coach Biles has ever had. “That’s just her personality.”   

She was just 0.034 points behind – the equivalent of one wobble – and uneven bars are her “worst” event. Balance beam and floor exercise were still to come, and her difficulty on both of those events is so much higher than Mustafina’s, and even Raisman’s, that Biles could have afforded a fall or two and still won.

Instead, she put on a show befitting a champion for the ages.

With a wobble on an aerial somersault quickly righted, Biles spent the rest of the routine making the 4-inch-wide beam look more like a 2-by-4. She tumbled and flipped and twisted with precision and confidence, moving more easily than us mere mortals do on flat ground.

Her score of 15.433, combined with a 13.866 by Mustafina, put her comfortably in first place and she never looked back.

It was fitting she ended on floor, where she soars so high she looks as if she could touch the sky.

“I told her to do it for herself and do it from joy,” Boorman said.

That she did, her smile as bright as the gold eyeliner she wore. Though her tricks are so difficult they defy the laws of both gravity and physics, she did them with the effort and lightness of the little girl who once delighted in doing back handsprings for a home video.

When the last notes of her music finished, she gave one more big smile and then, looking at Boorman, began to cry.

“I knew I had finally done it,” Biles said. “I felt every emotion at once.”

It has not quite sunk in yet, Biles said. As Olympic champion, she’s now part of a proud lineage that traces from Nadia Comaneci to Mary Lou Retton to Gabby Douglas. And as the fourth American in a row to win gymnastics’ biggest prize, she gives the United States bragging rights no other country, in men’s or women’s gymnastics, can claim. 

“It’s such an honor to be under that name, I don’t know what to think,” Biles said. “It doesn’t even feel real. To me, I’m still the same Simone.

“I just have two Olympic gold medals.”

With more likely to come.

Biles made the finals for vault, balance beam and floor exercise, giving her a chance to become the first woman to win five gold medals in a single Games. Given that she’s the reigning world champ on floor and beam and upgraded vault after winning bronze at last year’s worlds, she could leave Rio with more gold than some royal families.

But those would only add to her legend. To be considered the greatest, you have to have the greatest title.

“A lot of people have said she won’t be the greatest until she wins the Olympic all-around,” Boorman said. “So … mic drop.”

No one is better than Biles. Not now, not ever. 

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