The Tokyo Olympics is here, and SportsEngine is shining the spotlight on five of the reigning and emerging stars for Team USA. You'll learn about their journey, including in the formative years that helped propel that athlete to become one of the nation's–and world's–best.
Check out the first installment, with five insights on five-time world champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles.
Simone biles was born in Columbus, Ohio and raised by her grandparents
Simone and her sister Adria were adopted by her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, and raised in a suburb of Houston. She first tried gymnastics on a day-care field trip at the age of 6. “It is a wonderful thing,” Ron Biles told USA TODAY in August 2016 about adoption. "It gives you the opportunity to enrich the life of yourself and the child, and enrich everyone who is involved in your life."
Biles was 8 years old, when her flips impressed one of the coaches
Biles was remarkable in the air, but she couldn't stick her landings remarked one of her early coaches. "When I first saw her, I was like, 'Wow, this kid has something.' But what it was and how far she could go with it, I had no idea," Coach Aimee Boorman told the Chicago Tribune in 2016. Initially, Biles also struggled on the beam and with the uneven bars, because her hands were so small. Also, in her first competition, Biles made mistakes on her vaults and netted no points from judges.
Coach Boorman was raised by a single mother in Chicago, and she told the SHIFT Movement Science and Gymnastics Education podcast in November 2020 that her coaching style was most influenced by negative coaches from her own youth experience. "I was treated in a way as an athlete I didn't like, but I loved the sport so much," she said on the podcast. "I remembered how I felt, when I was that little girl, craving my coaches attention and not being good enough... I decided I was going to be more loving and kind, and focused around the love of gymnastics." Boorman had never worked with an elite level gymnast, but Biles thrived under her tutelage. Boorman encouraged Biles to have fun with friends and have a life outside the gym, and not obsess about diet. "You have to avoid burnout," Boorman told the Tribune. "I believe in family vacations. I believe in taking time off. I believe if it's your best friend's birthday, you take the day off and go spend it with her. That's time you can't get back."
At 14, Biles first made a big impression at the 2011 American Classic in Houston
placing third in the all-around and first on the vault and balance beam. Later in the year, she placed 20th in the all-around and fifth on the balance beam and floor exercise. She started working with the national team in 2013. Biles became such a transcendent talent, that the U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi respected the approach of Biles and Boorman, even when the athlete didn't participate in every national team camp. "I've always said, from the very first moment, that this is the right match," Karolyi said, according to the Tribune. "Aimee can push when she has to push, but she always gives in when she sees that Simone needs a mental break. She understands what Simone needs."
Simone had her breakout international performance in October 2013
Biles qualified for the final in all four events and won the all-around title at the World Championships in Belgium. She then went on a historic run of success, culminating at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when she won the all-around title and powered the U.S. to a dominant victory for the coveted team title. Biles was always thankful for her network of support, including Boorman. "I always say she’s like the second mom to me because she’s been there since I was like 8 years old," Biles said. "Every year the bond gets stronger and better and we understand each other more."
Biles, whose last all-around defeat came in 2013, can become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles since 1968
Already the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history, Biles could also become the most decorated gymnast in the world, overtaking Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus with four medals in Tokyo. She continues to train in Houston, working out of her parents' gym with her new coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi. Boorman moved to Florida, and she recently joined the Netherlands women’s gymnastics team as an assistant coach. "I’m feeling pretty good, pretty confident," Biles told the Guardian. "All of our training has geared us for this moment, so I’m just super excited for the journey."