Simone Biles has been called the GOAT – greatest of all time – cementing her place among names like Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan.
And her career is far from over, despite taking a small hiatus: The Spring, Texas, native is back and continues to make history, winning a record eighth U.S. All-around Gymnastics title over the weekend.
Associated Press sports reporter Will Graves, who has been following Biles’ journey for more than a decade, spoke with the Texas Standard on her performance and how she’s retooling what works for her in gymnastics.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How would you describe Simone’s performance in the competition Sunday night?
Will Graves: You know, it’s funny – after covering her for 10 years, you start to run out of adjectives. But I was really stunned at how precise her gymnastics were. Her coach, Laurent Landi, after her floor exercise on Sunday, said it was the best that he’s ever seen her do. And she’s been doing this for a long time.
You know, a peak for gymnast might be a couple of years. She’s managed to maintain it for ten. It’s literally unheard of.
In fact, as I understand it, you were there 10 years ago when she won that first title, no?
Yes. And it was sort of, you know, at the time she had a lot of talent, but she wasn’t really expected to be sort of the next wave after that group of 2012 Olympians. But she has certainly far exceeded anyone’s expectations, including her own.
It is quite a remarkable story to see her so sharp after really only getting serious about this comeback maybe about three or four months ago. Certainly appears that everything that happened to her in Tokyo was behind her. She has her eyes firmly set on the present into Paris next year.
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Yeah, she’s only 26, so, you know, do the math – she was 16 when she won that first title. But I think a lot of people more recently, of course, have been focused on the fact that she did a small break from gymnastics to get where she is right now. Could you say a little bit about why that break, and what happened during that period?
Well, yes. And of course, you say, “only 26” – trust me, in the elite gymnastics world, 26 is the equivalent of Michael Jordan averaging 50 points a game at age 40. I mean, what she’s doing at the level she’s doing it is remarkable.
After Tokyo, she had a mental block that is called the twisties, forced her to remove herself from event competitions towards the end of the meet. She did come back and win a bronze on beam at the end, but she needed a break.
She got married to Green Bay Packer defensive back safety Jonathan Owens. She seems to be very happy. She seems to have shifted her approach a little bit. She was very open, very out there, and she always has been – one of the things I like about her – very public and sort of very transparent in her entire life.
And I think she’s taken a little bit more reserved approach this time, which she thinks is to protect her as much it is anything else I think she wants like a clear line between work and play. And to be honest, it seems to be working. I think it’s something that, you know, she has found a good balance in her life, which she maybe didn’t have before. And I think that can only lead to better gymnastics.
I’m so glad that you underscore the fact that 26 is not young in gymnastics. Of course, we think of it as relatively young, generally speaking, but not among gymnasts. And I’m wondering, as you watched her on Sunday, what were your thoughts about her future, about where her career is likely to go from here?
Well, she is definitely taking it one year at a time. I think it’s very telling that, you know, after her comeback meet in Chicago a few weeks ago, which I was also at, and this weekend in San Jose, she did not say the word “Olympics” or “Paris” in any of her chats with the media afterwards. She is very much taking it one day at a time.
However, she is uniquely talented, uniquely gifted – in the little portion of the gymnastics world, I have some friends and we have joked for a while that she is the type of athlete that any time between now and, say, age 40, she could roll out of bed six months before any given Olympics and say, you know what, I think I’m going to go do that.
I’m being a little facetious. But I mean, look, I’ve been around this for 10 years, and I’ve seen other gymnasts in the American wave kind of rise and peak and kind of recede back and go into retirement, you know, at 23, which is what they typically do. And to see her keep going is remarkable.
I would not put anything past her at this point. I think if you try to limit Simone Biles, that would be very unwise. She is unlike any gymnast and really most athletes we’ve ever seen.