Get Ready for Simone Biles' Superstar Turn at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Meri-Jo Borzilleri@mjoboSpecial to Bleacher ReportJuly 7, 2016

Simone Biles, 19, is heavily favored to win her first Olympic trials Friday in San Jose, California.
Simone Biles, 19, is heavily favored to win her first Olympic trials Friday in San Jose, California.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Gymnast Simone Biles is ready for her close-up.

In fact, there might be no one more ready to win Olympic gold.

She's already appeared on a cereal box. She has already made gymnastics history. She overcame family upheaval and became a fun-loving teenager despite pressures that have crumpled others on the world stage.

Biles is the best bet to gain household-name status among rookie Olympians when the 2016 Games are held in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5-21.

She is also setting unofficial records for superlatives at the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics trials in San Jose, California.

"I do think she's a phenom in some respects," said Steve Penny, USA Gymnastics president. "I do believe that her particular success and her particular style does make her a bit of a phenom. Because what she has achieved in (these) three-and-a-half years, no one has ever done."

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Last month, Biles, 19, won a fourth straight U.S. national title, something no gymnast has done in 40 years. She has also won three consecutive world titles, something no gymnast has done—ever.

She has not lost an all-around meet since 2013. That's 12 straight competitions, including nationals and world championships.

As the pressure to perform grows as the Games approach, Biles keeps elevating along with it. She has been winning for so long it takes reminding that she has yet to compete in her first Olympics. In April, she laid out her mental game plan.

It's basically this: Thinking about the Games stresses her out, so she doesn't. (Or she does a great job hiding it.)

"It's not good for your body," she told reporters before the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Washington. "So I like to focus on the moment and just wait because anything could happen."

In a sport in which grim effort, fake smiles and perfunctory hugs are commonplace, Biles manages something as impressive as her titles: She looks like she's having more fun than anyone else. Last month, in the middle of her floor routine at nationals, Biles finished her first tumbling run and locked eyes with 2008 Olympic silver medalist Shawn Johnson on the sideline. And winked.

Who does that?

US gymnasts Margaret Nichols (R) and Simone Biles react to their bronze and gold medal placings after the Women's Floor Final at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2015.    AFP PHOTO / ANDY BUCHANAN        (Photo c

Most gymnasts stand and fidget before starting their routines, the picture of concentration and anxiety. Not Biles, who has been known to watch and applaud for others just seconds before she begins.

"Then it's, 'Oh, is it my turn?'" Penny said. "The only way I can describe her is she's incredible in the moment. She has got this gift of knowing what she has to do, when she needs to do it."

Not that Biles is some perpetually cheery gym robot.

"There are those days in the gym; it's still a mess sometimes," she said, per David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. "I'm 19. I'm normal. I have emotional problems here and there just because we're teens. Other than that, everything is good."

Olympic medalists have noticed her prowess. Johnson told Julia Fincher of that Biles is the greatest gymnast she's ever seen.

Mary Lou Retton, the 1984 Olympic champion whom Biles might match in bubbliness, said she's the most talented gymnast in history, per Juliet Macur of the New York Times.

After watching Biles soar over American teammates at nationals—she bested runner-up Aly Raisman by 3.9 points, a huge margin in gymnastics—TV commentator Tim Daggett, a 1984 men's team gold medalist, said, per Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald, "With this performance, she would crush everybody in Rio. She's that much better than everybody else."

Biles and 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas.
Biles and 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Biles stands 4'9", but her muscled limbs and broad shoulders combine to produce a body that seems spring-loaded. Watching Biles perform brings to mind the top athletes of a generation. She has evoked comparison to Michael Jordan's levitation, Serena Williams' power and Michael Phelps' dominance.

"When I see Simone doing floor, it's like watching a plane take off," Penny said. "It just kind of goes off the ground."

Biles is the next in a remarkable succession of American all-around world-beaters during what can be considered the U.S.'s golden age of female gymnasts.

If Biles wins all-around Olympic gold on Aug. 11 in Rio, she will be the fourth straight American to do so, following Carly Patterson (2004), Nastia Liukin (2008) and Gabby Douglas. No country has produced four straight all-around individual Olympic champions, men or women.

And she might just be the best of them.

Biles, who lives in Houston, has a background story that would stand alone as remarkable even if she wasn't so talented.

Born to a drug- and alcohol-addicted mother, she and her three siblings lived with their grandparents, Nellie and Ron. They eventually adopted Simone and her sister, Adria, while two brothers were adopted by another relative. Simone considers her grandparents her parents.

Biles started gymnastics at age six. Penny said he remembers U.S. team coach Marta Karolyi referring to her as a "diamond in the rough" about four years ago in the wake of the 2012 "Fierce Five" gold in London. A few athletes from that team competed in 2013, and the U.S. federation was "very optimistic" about maintaining the world's top spot, Penny said. "And Marta just kept talking about this little girl named Simone."

For an in-the-moment Biles, it helps to be a rookie Olympic hopeful, she said.

"I've never been to the Olympics," she said before the Pacific Rim Championships. "I don't know what to expect. That's better for me, like my first worlds. That helped me not overthink anything."

On Monday, Biles threw out the first pitch before a Houston Astros game. In exuberant fashion, she executed a front flip off the mound before her delivery. The pitch was right on target.

Word is getting out. Cue the spotlight. Biles is ready.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Meri-Jo Borzilleri has Olympic blood in her veins. She grew up in Lake Placid, New York, the two-time Winter Olympics host town, and has covered the U.S. Olympic Committee as well as four Olympic Games. She wound up on the wrong side of history when she lost an odds-even bet with her younger sister for a ticket to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" game. Follow her on Twitter @mjobo.


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