Nancy Armour USA TODAY
Published 3:38 PM EDT Oct 9, 2019
STUTTGART, Germany -- When Simone Biles turned up at the national championships with a sequined goat on her training leotard, she meant it as a joke, a clapback at the trolls and critics.
But while Biles might cringe at the idea of actually calling herself the GOAT – greatest of all time – others will happily do it for her. Fellow gymnasts, coaches, icons of the sport – there is universal agreement that Biles is the best there is, of her generation and every other.
“If we’re talking about domination, nothing like that has ever happened in our sport,” Nadia Comaneci, who is still on a first-name basis with the world 40-plus years after scoring gymnastics’ first perfect 10, told USA TODAY Sports.
“I don’t think there will ever be anything like that. She’s one of a kind.”
Biles is all but assured of winning the all-around title at the world gymnastics championships Thursday. She hasn’t lost an all-around competition since nationals in 2013, and it’s been five years since anyone’s even gotten close to her. (It was Larisa Iordache of Romania, at the 2014 worlds, for those wondering.)
It would be her fifth all-around title. It also would be Biles’ 22nd medal at the world championships, one less than the record set by Belarus' Vitaly Scherbo -- who did two more events, mind you.
But it’s not just the medals and titles that set Biles apart. It’s, well, everything.
“It’s what she’s doing to the sport. She’s revolutionizing it in a way I think no one will ever be able to do or has done,” said Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion who is now a commentator for NBC. “I don’t think that anybody will ever top that.”
Biles has near-perfect technique, which has allowed her to push the bounds of the sport physically. Look at the few men who have attempted the triple-twisting, double somersault that she now does on floor exercise, and none managed to do it as cleanly. They landed with their chests forward or their knees bent so they could control their landings.
When Biles did it during team finals, she landed perfectly upright, her feet cemented to the floor. Oh, she got so much height that the people in the first half-dozen rows had to look up to watch her, too.
She now has four skills named for her, two on floor exercise and one each on vault and balance beam. Pretty much every one of her routines could be put on an instructional DVD – if there were a chance anyone could come close to duplicating what she’s doing, that is.
“She’s really absolutely out of this world to me,” said Svetlana Boginskaya, the 1989 world champion who now coaches in Biles’ hometown of Houston.
“It’s alien gymnastics. It’s inhuman gymnastics.”
Most impressive is that Biles, with her power and precision, had changed the game before the Rio Olympics. But after taking a year off, she’s come back even better. Stronger. With more difficult skills.
The triple-double on floor and a double-twisting, double somersault dismount off beam are new this year. The Biles vault was new last season. She’s even improved uneven bars, her least favorite and “weakest” event, so much so that she was the silver medalist at worlds last year.
She's so superior that the International Gymnastics Committee watered down the value of her double-double on beam because they didn't want to encourage mere mortals to try it.
Liukin marvels at all of that, having tried to come back for the 2012 Olympics.
“People don’t realize how difficult it actually is,” Liukin said. “(They don’t realize) how many different directions she’s being pulled in on a constant, day-to-day basis.”
Yet Biles has made it all look easy.
In some ways, that keeps her from getting the full credit she deserves. People are so used to Biles doing “Simone things” that we lose perspective on just how rare they – and she -- are.
“That’s been the hardest part for me,” Liukin said. “To not tell myself, `Oh, she’s just Simone.’”
Biles is not doing this in a vacuum, either. The expectations on her are sky-high, and she is nearing that crossover celebrity status. The video of her triple-double at nationals practically broke the Internet, and she will no doubt be the face of the Tokyo Games with Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt now retired.
“She’s the best thing about the sport right now because she is the sport at this particular point,” Comaneci said.
At some point, Biles will retire – the 22-year-old says Tokyo will be her last Olympics – and new gymnasts will come along. That’s how it is in sport. We’re sure we’ve seen the greatest ever, only to have someone else do them one better.
Bill Russell gave way to Michael Jordan who gave way to Kobe Bryant who gave way to LeBron James. Mark Spitz’s records were eclipsed by Phelps. And so it goes.
But there are a few athletes who are transcendent – Phelps, Serena, Tiger, Brady -- and Biles is among them. She is already doing skills that can't be matched. Before she is done, she will set records that won't be touched.
“She is, absolutely, the best I have ever seen,” said Liang Chow, who coached Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas when she won the all-around gold at the London Olympics.
If anyone has earned the right to call herself the GOAT, it's Biles. Since she won't, we will.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.