Simone’s window; Biles bidding for history in Tokyo

Simone Biles is aware of the pressure. She welcomes him. Practically invites him. Look no further than the sequined goat she nicknamed “Goldie” that is sometimes found on her competition leotard.

The symbol – a game by the acronym of Greatest of All Time – is both a nod to her hard-earned status as the most talented gymnast (and perhaps athlete) on the planet and to the disproportionate expectations it faces, both internally and externally.

It’s a delicate dance, which will take center stage when the 24-year-old American steps out in front of the world in Tokyo. No pressure. All she has to do is somehow surpass her astounding performance in Rio de Janeiro, when she won five medals (including four gold) and entered the rarefied air of Olympic royalty. reserved for Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Nadia Comaneci.

Yes, it is a lot. Then again, whatever bar is set on her by others, she is pale compared to the bar Biles is setting for himself. That’s why she found herself in tears during the Olympic Trials in the United States, when a night’s rest in the final left her frustrated and angry. “I feel like anything rather than my best will bother me,” Biles said.

It was this motivation that led Biles to return to the gym after a year of hiatus following his remarkable success in Brazil. New coaches Laurent and Cecille Landi helped her put together a plan that didn’t just ask her to regain the skills that made her the best in the world, but to build on them.

She has unveiled a series of boundary-pushing elements over the past four years, and her latest – the Yurchenko double carp jump, which has previously only been performed by men in international competition – will become the latest to wear her. name in the sport code of the sport. Points if she’s able to land it in Japan. Yes, Biles is well aware of his influence. She didn’t go into this trying to become a point of inspiration. Yet she hardly shies away from responsibility.

“When someone strives to achieve perfection and practice their skills, it inspires other athletes to know that it is possible and that they can do it too,” said Biles. “So I feel like I would say we’ve reached a point where gymnastics is getting harder and a little more dangerous. So we’re walking on eggshells here a bit, but it’s exciting to watch. Other things to look for in Tokyo:

ABUSE SCANDALS

The competition floor is not the only place where sport takes place safely. Gymnastics has spent much of the past five years trying to tackle an elite-level culture of abuse all over the world. The scandal surrounding disgraced former US national team doctor Larry Nassar – who sexually abused athletes (including Biles) under the guise of medical treatment – has sparked some sort of tally.

Federations from the United States to Great Britain to Australia have strived to create a healthier atmosphere for their elite athletes.

It won’t be known for years whether any real progress has been made, although America’s best women allow the mood to be more relaxed now than it was during the highly successful tenure of the former coordinator of the national team, Martha Karolyi. “I feel like it’s a lot more fun,” said MyKayla Skinner, who will compete as an individual qualifier.

TALENT OVERLOAD

At least for the Americans, who are widely favored to win their third consecutive Olympic title. Of course, having biles helps. But the American squad is loaded like never before.

Sunisa Lee, who beat Biles in the all-around on day two of the Olympic trials, is a revelation on uneven bars. Jordan Chiles’ stability in 2021 has transformed her from a marginal Olympic candidate to a gymnast who could return to the United States with multiple medals. There’s so much room to maneuver that national team coordinator Tom Forster admitted that he actually potentially sacrificed a few tenths of a point by picking Grace McCallum to complete the four-woman squad instead of Skinner.

“We’re so lucky that our athletes are so strong that I don’t think it’s going to come down to tenths of a point in Tokyo,” Forster said.

ONCE AGAIN

The Games will also serve as a farewell to some Olympic legends. Two-time Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan – in many ways the male equivalent of Biles – will have the chance to say bow to his homeland after qualifying as an individual. And Uzbekistan Oksana Chusovitina, 46, will compete in her eighth Olympic record.

Chusovitina has promised that she is ready to retire several times over the years.

Still, this is probably his last fight. It might also be for Biles. But maybe not. Her coaches are French and she does not rule out a third match to thank them for rekindling her love for the sport. For now, however, Tokyo is waiting. “I’m very relieved that the Olympic trials are over and we still have a lot of work to do once we get there,” she said. “But I’m super excited.” Everyone too.

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