How Simone Biles caught the bug and turned into a world champion gymnast


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When her day care class was taken to a gym class for a visit, 6-year-old Simone Biles got a little bit excited. Well, more than a little bit. She got so excited by the gymnastics tricks she saw the gym class kids doing, she started performing them, too.

"They saw me, so they asked me if I wanted to join and do tumbling or gymnastics," Simone said of the coaches at Bannon's Gymnastix in Simone's home town of Spring, Texas, about 20 miles from Houston. "They said, 'We have discovered a gymnast,' " she said, of her first day of exposure to the sport.

She said "yes," she'd like to do gymnastics, so the coaches sent home with Simone a letter to her parents, Nellie and Ronald Biles. The coaches thought Simone looked like she'd have some of the sport's skills.

She proved them very right.

Now 17, Simone won the 2013 all-around world championship and the 2013 all-around P&G Gymnastics championship last year when she turned 16, the first year she was old enough to compete in senior competitions. She turned 16 March 14, 2013.

She was ready to compete in the world and national championships, and because of her P&G all-around championship last year, she was automatically qualified for the 2014 P&G championship and will be here in Pittsburgh for the event Aug. 21-24. Simone and her father, Ronald, visited Pittsburgh and met with newspaper and TV reporters April 14. Procter & Gamble sponsors the competition.

While here, she shared her amusing story of the little girl who mimicked the gymnasts years ago in Spring, Texas.

"The next week I started," she said. "I was just copying whatever I'd seen, and I'd said, 'I think I can do that.' And I did."

She still was no more than 6, or maybe 7, when she was learning things that most people never can learn how to do: back flips in the air.

"When I started flipping, I tried to do a back tuck on the beam. I was 7," Simone said. "Probably not long after that, I was flipping on the floor."

She was on her way to being a star gymnast.

Last year, when she became a senior competing gymnast, Simone put her name and reputation out where neither could be ignored. She won the U.S. all-around title at the P&G event, a gold medal, with silver medals for the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

Then she went on to the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, and became the seventh U.S. woman and the first African-American to win the all-around title. There were other medals picked up in the United States and Chenwitz, Germany.

Simone may not have to try out for the P&G Gymnastics because she was on the world team, but that's not keeping her from preparing for the U.S. championships. She works out "seven hours a day, five days a week. [I take off] Saturday and Sunday, just the weekends." She's also home-schooled as a junior for a few hours a day at her teacher's house.

Simone is also working to earn herself a spot on the 2016 team that will represent the United States at the Olympics. "I am planning to go out for the team and, yes, make it," she said.

She's working out with her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, but she's no longer with Bannon's Gymnastix. Since leaving the gym in February, she's been at a temporary gym home until her parents finish building a new one.

"She is currently training at AIM Athletes in The Woodlands, Texas, on an interim basis, while we, her parents, build a new gym named World Champions Centre," Mr. Biles said in an email. "The gym will open in two phases. Phase 1 should be ready in October 2014, and the final complete gym should open in February 2015."

Simone will be practicing her gymnastics skills at her parents' new center, but so will her sister, Adria, a 15-year-old Level 8 gymnast. There are also two additional men in the family, Ronald II, 30, and Dan, 28.

Extensive safety equipment and trained professionals are important to any top gymnastic facility. Simone's father said gymnasts have tried to do increasingly more difficult skills over the past 20 to 30 years.

"The so-called hard routines of the past are nothing for today's gymnast," he said in his email. "With the more difficult skills the number of injuries have increased. The Federation of International Gymnastics has banned some of the skills, hoping to reduce the number of injuries. However, most gymnasts in order to achieve higher scores are still doing more complicated skills in hopes of winning. Gymnasts who have the ability to compete more difficult skills have the advantage.

"Therefore the higher the difficulty, the higher the score. And that is the way it is."

The P&G Gymnastics Championships, in Pittsburgh for the first time, will be held Aug. 21-24 at Consol Energy Center. Tickets go on sale May 2 at ticketmaster.com or by phone 1-800-745-3000.


Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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