Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles’ career had been so remarkable for therefore long that the sole surprises left appeared to be just what percentage outrageous new skills she’d surprise us with, simply because she could do them. Her difficulty and execution are astonishing for eight years, so it’s hardly surprising that a lot of viewers (some might say too many) took her greatness without any consideration. in fact, Biles goes to try to do things we’ve never seen any human do before; in fact, she’s getting to whoosh through her astonishing number of twists with amazing power and grace; in fact, she’s getting to push the game past new frontiers we didn’t even know were there.
That’s a part of what made her withdrawal from the team and individual event finals in Tokyo so shocking. And it’s why her announcement on Monday—that she would compete within the Olympic finals after all beam, the last remaining event that she’d qualified—brought such exhilaration (and, for a few folks, nerves). Amid arguably the most important shock she’d ever given the game, many again taken without any consideration that the past had shown us how the longer term was getting to go—that she was done. But surprise! Lucky us. She came back, (probably) one last time.
Let’s be real. After the journey we’ve been on these Olympics—“we” here meaning Biles and her ally, the whole World—she could have mounted the apparatus in Tokyo’s beam final, done two leaps, fallen fourfold, and dismounted with the cartwheel back tuck I did in 1988, and that we (the entire world) would all be bawling our eyes out. But she didn’t. She nailed it. She sailed through her dastardly wolf turn, obliterated about one among her tricky connecting skills, then positively flew off the apparatus with the very best, airiest double pike I even have ever seen.
Both the context and execution of the performance mean that this finish (behind two stellar routines by Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing) will likely be remembered together of the best things that the best ever did, during a historic career which will or might not be over. (Biles is legendary for holding grudges against past iterations of herself; she has also mentioned competing in Paris as an apparatus specialist in homage to her French coaches.) Still, since this might be the last time we get to ascertain her compete, there’s no time just like the present to situate Biles’ triumphant return to competition Tuesday morning within the tableau of her historic career. Where does it slot in among her highest highlights, during a run at the highest that was chock-full of them?
If athletic greatness had one metric—the distance between the simplest and everybody else—then Simone Biles would be the best athlete of all time. And although some uninformed jokers might confuse greatness with winning gold at the Olympics, the results of a lone quadrennial competition couldn’t begin to encapsulate Biles’ legacy within the sport she has dominated for eight years. And sure, it’s unfair to whittle the best career within the history of gymnastics to a paltry list of achievements—and that’s without even pertaining to Biles’ extracurricular record, where she engineered the shutdown of an abusive system; kept the architects of that system accountable; and, in Tokyo, set a replacement standard for valuing gymnasts’ physical and psychological state and their autonomy. It’s equally impossible to wrangle human words into describing the ways this gymnast has redefined “difficulty” during a sport that quantifies it. But I’m still getting to try. then here, at the (possible) end of her career, at the top of those cursed Games, are the ten greatest moments during which Simone Biles pushed the planet of gymnastics beyond its limits.