It was over almost before it started.
With appropriately gold glitter shadow rimming her eyes, Simone Biles kicked off the women’s gymnastics all-around competition at the 2016 Olympics with her Amanar vault, the trickiest one that women perform, with two-and-a-half twists before landing facing forward. She wasn’t as solid on the landing as she was during the team competition, but it was enough to earn her 15.866, the highest on that event. With that head start, Biles blitzed toward the gold, leading after all but one of the three rotations (Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, the bronze medalist, led after the uneven bars, which is Biles’ lowest-scoring event).
Biles closed out the competition as the last gymnast on floor exercise. It’s one of her favorite events, a chance to highlight her remarkable ability to knowing where she is when she catapults herself into twists and flips–what gymnasts call “air sense.”
“Sometimes nothing goes through my mind when I’m tumbling,” she said of her signature Biles tumbling series that she pulled off Thursday with hallmark precision. “I just tumble. I just knew that once the first few passes were out of the way I was good.”
By the time it was really over, Biles, 19, clinched gold nearly two points ahead of her teammate Aly Raisman, and cementing her status as the world’s greatest gymnast and arguably the best of all time. Mustafina of Russia finished third.
The silver medal is especially sweet for Raisman, 22, who missed out on bronze in 2012 after a tie-breaker went against her. She trained to make the Rio squad to avenge that loss, as well as finally reach the podium in an all-around competition. After wrapping her gold medal from the team event around coach Mihai Brestyan’s neck, Raisman held on to her silver from the all-around. “I’m keeping this one,” she said.
What played out in Rio Thursday followed much the same script as at any women’s all-around event since 2013. Biles has dominated the event — and the sport — with such authority that she’s considered unbeatable, the gymnastics version of swimming great Michael Phelps.
It’s the combination of sustained success and difficulty that sets Biles apart. No female gymnast has ever won more than two world championships in a row; Biles has three. With the Olympic title, she earns a place in gymnastics history that surpasses those of the great gymnasts from previous dynasties such as Russia and Romania. And the win makes the U.S. the first nation to have four consecutive all-around Olympics winners: Carly Patterson in 2004, Nastia Liukin in 2008 and Gabby Douglas in 2012.
(Read More: How U.S. Women Became the World’s Best Gymnasts)
The stands in Rio were filled with Biles supporters. Her parents Ron and Nellie and half brothers Ron Jr. and Adam were there cheering, as were the other three members of the Final Five, Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. A note of inspiration came from Biles’ best friend, Maggie Nichols, her longtime roommate at competitions and training camps. Nichols, who was injured before trials and didn’t make the team, texted Biles beforehand: “Today’s the day to make your dreams reality, be the best you can be. Be confident in all your routines, be wise you have done the work so now it’s time to enjoy. You’re so ready for this and [you’re] going to absolutely blow everyone away. I love you so much best friend. Go have some fun.”
Biles responded with her characteristic enthusiasm: “Aw thanks so much I love you you’re the best!!! Will dooooo!!!”
She did exactly what her best friend said––and made history, too.
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