ANTWERP — Simone Biles didn’t crack. The springy 16-year-old from Spring, Texas showed no signs of weakness or hesitation as she catapulted herself toward the all-around title at her first World Championships Friday evening.
Biles’s high-energy, high-difficulty routines set her up as the favorite at the beginning of the week. The expectations increased after she hit four flawless routines in the all-around prelim, becoming the first American to qualify for all four event finals since Shannon Miller did it in the 1990s. Biles also becomes the first African American woman to win a world all-around title in gymnastics.
Biles’s confidence seemed to grow with every routine in the pressure-packed final. She took the lead in the first seconds of the competition with a stellar Amanar vault (15.85) and ended her evening on floor exercise with a high-flying routine (double twisting double tuck, a double layout half out, a 2.5 to front layout and an easy-looking full twisting double tuck, a pass many gymnasts at this Worlds are using at the beginning of their floor sets) to walk away with the world title.
“Floor is my best event, and I love to do floor. I was just happy,” Biles said afterwards. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. And we still have finals, so I can’t get too excited yet.”
The U.S.’s Kyla Ross, who looked just as strong and unflappable as Biles all week, settled for silver after four hit performances of her own. Ross’s start values, particularly on vault, were lower than Biles’s, but the youngest member of the Fierce Five said the key to her success was concentrating on on her routines and not the scoreboard.
“When I go out there and compete I really don’t look at the scores too much — I just really focus on doing my routines the best that I can. I really didn’t know what my scores were,” Ross said. As for rivalry with Biles, no way — the relationship is more familial.
“We were really just cheering each other on the whole way,” Ross noted. “I think I was able to show Simone how everything runs, and now she’s an expert at that too.” In addition to her silver medal, Ross was awarded the Longines Prize for Elegance, voted on by the media. Prize pack includes a beautiful Longines watch.
The Americans’s domination left everyone else in the 24-woman field — particularly Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, China’s Yao Jinnan and Romania’s Larisa Iordache — to battle for the bronze. Mustafina, the 2010 World all-around champion and reigning European champion, looked exhausted during the preliminary round, when she was fifth behind Yao and Iordache, but seemed to have woken up by Friday night.
With the medals on the line, Mustafina kicked into higher gear, playing it safe on beam but brilliantly executing new skills on bars and floor while Yao and Iordache both fell from the balance beam.
Whatever the expectations were before, with the World all-around title, first-year senior Biles will face even more pressure as she moves toward the Rio Olympics. But as she faced reporters in the mixed zone with the World gold around her neck, all that seemed very far from her mind.
How was the medal? someone asked. Is it heavy?
“Not really,” Biles replied.
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