With three consecutive all-around World Championship titles, a record-setting 14 world medals, and now an Olympic gold medal, American gymnast Simone Biles has absolutely no plans to simply rest on her laurels. Her extraordinary Olympic debut helped propel the U.S. women's gymnastic team to gold in the all-around final, and many are calling her unbeatable. With the entire world watching her redefine the sport of gymnastics one routine at a time, Biles is, by now, a household name.
But the 19-year-old gymnast says that wasn't always the case, as her small stature caused many to underestimate her early on. At just 4-foot-8-inches, Biles is a powerhouse of pure athleticism set to become the biggest star the gymnastics world has ever seen. No one is underestimating her now.
Although she's already been called the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles says she didn't come into gymnastics with Olympic gold on her mind. "I was just a kid who fell in love with the sport as soon as I stepped foot into the gym," Biles tells Bustle about her chance introduction to the sport during a daycare field trip to a gymnastics center at the age of 6. "I just really loved the adrenaline I got flipping around. Never in a million years did I think I'd be here."
While many athletes make Olympic gold their goal, Biles' big focus in the months leading up to the Rio Games was simply to make the U.S. Olympic team. Despite an impressive resume that includes being the first woman in 40 years to win four gold medals at a single World Championship, Biles didn't consider herself a shoo-in like many of us did. For her, it was "a big relief" to make the team. "I feel so honored and blessed," she says. "It's crazy."
Biles is blowing the gymnastics world away with her ability to consistently execute some of the sport's most difficult moves. Her balance beam dismount, known as a full twisting double back, has Biles completing two backflips followed by a twisting somersault on a beam just 4-inches wide. It is thought to be one of the most difficult moves being attempted at Rio this year.
On the vault, Biles often flawlessly executes one of the apparatus' most challenging skills, an Amanar vault. It begins with a roundoff onto the springboard, a back handspring onto the vault that enables her to get roughly 10 feet above the ground and complete two and a half twist before landing.
And in floor, Biles' favorite event, the 19-year-old is known for a tumbling pass that bears her name. The Biles involves a double flip layout with a half-twist at the end to up the difficulty of the landing.
Many of the moves in Biles' repertoire — all executed with an assured air of effortlessness — look like they shouldn't be physically possible. Although there's no secret trick behind Biles' ability to pull off gravity-defying twists, flips, and jumps, she assures me that none of it is as easy as she makes it look. "It's our job to make it look easy," she says. "It's not our job to go out there are make it look hard, because if it were then everybody would be doing it."
"I think it's good to showcase that you can be small and powerful and do great things."
Although pint-sized, Biles' athleticism and explosive power have made her a giant in the gymnastics world. In continuing to push the boundary of what's possible with her routines, she is changing both the sport and the concept of powerful. Biles is proof that size really doesn't matter when it comes to accomplishing great things.
Recently, Biles teamed up with iconic Olympians Nadia Comaneci and Dominique Dawes for Tide Pods' "The Evolution of Power" campaign to examine how different generations of gymnasts helped to grow the sport over the last 40 years and spread the message that small is strong. "I think it's good to showcase that you can be small and powerful and do great things," Biles says. "I think it's very special to represent a product like that. All my life I'd sometimes be made fun of for my height. People say 'Oh, she's so short, blah, blah, blah,' but really it doesn't matter."
While a powerhouse in her own right even before earning her first Olympic gold medal, Biles says it was an amazing compliment to be listed alongside two of the gymnastic world's most iconic athletes. "They're some of gymnasts' biggest role models," Biles tells Bustle. "They're also the ones who paved the way and made this all possible for USA Gymnastics to be where we are in the sport. We just have to be very grateful for them. It's just kind of cool to carry that legacy on and be a part of it."
But for all her talent (and boy is there a bunch of it) and rising popularity — even Zac Efron is a fan — Biles is humble and quick to credit those that have helped her get where she is today. "I think all of us were born with a God-given talent for the sport that we do and the level that we're at, it's just something that we're blessed with," she says. "We didn't get here on our own. We have our family, our friends, our coaches. We have national staff that helps us get to where we are, to be the greatest that we can be."
While everyone else debates whether or not she's the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles isn't likely to delve into that conversation. For her, it's about working hard and staying focused, knowing that there's always room for improvement. "It feels good that they have the belief in me that I need to have in myself, but it's very strange I think because they've done so much more than me," she tells Bustle when asked how it feels to have so many former Olympic gymnasts describe her as in a league of her own. "I still have a lot to accomplish, or that I at least want to accomplish. You just feel very grateful for the opportunities you've been given."