A decade after 16-year-old Simone Biles won world gold for the first time in Antwerp, Belgium, two years after withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health, and less than three months after returning to competition, the legendary gymnast has won a sixth all-around title, making her the most decorated gymnast of all time.
The Friday (Oct. 6) win brought Biles' combined world and Olympic medal count to 34, breaking male gymnast Vitaly Cherbo's record. Biles added a silver in vault to that collection Saturday, bringing her total to 35: 28 World Championship medals (21 gold, four silver, and three bronze) and 7 Olympic medals (four gold, one silver, and two bronze).
Biles led the US to a record seventh-straight team gold earlier this week. She is the first woman to win six all-around titles and holds the most World gold medals.
The 26-year-old American scored 58.3999 across the balance beam, floor, vault, and uneven bars to beat defending champion Rebecca Andrade of Brazil by 1.6333 points. Biles's compatriot Shilese Jones took bronze with 56.332.
Biles opted not to go for the Yurchenko double pike in the all-around competition. The move, previously completed only by men, is now known as the Biles II after she became the first woman to land it in international competition during team qualifying earlier this week. For that attempt she earned 15.766, voluntarily taking a half-point deduction so that her coach Laurent Landi could stand on the mat to spot her.
She did attempt the move during Saturday's vault competition, but fell, downgrading her to a silver medal. The only flaw in her all-around performance was a trip towards the end of her floor routine ("I know my parents had a heart attack," Biles told Landi) but she recovered seemingly effortlessly to claim the gold by a wide margin.
Biles's achievements are all the more poignant after many thought she would never return to gymnastics following her withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics to prioritise her mental health. Since then Biles stayed in shape, but only intensified training after her wedding the NFL player Jonathan Owens this May and only returned to competition in the US Classic in early August.
Now, despite being older than most gymnasts competing at her level, she's inarguably at the top of her game — and the top of the world.
"She is like wine, she is better with age," said coach Cecile Landi (wife of Laurent).
Biles acknowledged the emotion of the moment:
"Because ten years ago, I won my first worlds. Now we're back here, so it was emotional. It means everything to me, the fight, everything that I've put in to get back to this place, feel comfortable and confident enough to compete."
She also noted how special it was that it was three Black athletes on the all-around podium — perhaps especially significant after the controversy surrounding an incident where a young Black girl was passed over during a medal ceremony at a Gymnastics Ireland event.
"We had our Black podium of girls [Biles, Andrade, and Jones], so I thought that was amazing. So, hopefully it just teaches all the young girls out there that you can do anything."