Take for instance Marion Jones in 2000, Michael Phelps in 2004, Liu Xang in 2008 and London sweetheart Jessica Ennis-Hill in 2012 – all of whom featured in the build-up to each of the Olympics they competed in. But with the exception of swimming superman Phelps and Heptathlon athlete Ennis-Hill, it has been something of a curse for others.
We all know what happened to the disgraced sprinter who had to return all five of her gold medals won at the Sydney spectacle 16 years ago. Former IAAF president Lamine Diack went on to say that Jones would be remembered as one of the biggest frauds in history. Although far from disgraced, it was hoped Xang would emulate his gold-winning performance from Athens in front of an expectant Beijing National Stadium four years later.
But what was supposed to be a celebration, turned into a huge anti-climax when the 110m hurdler walked off the track after another runner false started. Stunned, the host nation watched on. It has been a bit of a mixed bag for gymnasts gracing the weekly news magazine.
After clinching the 1991 world all-around title, 16-year-old Kim Zmeskal was the big American hope heading into Barcelona. It just wasn’t meant to be though for the three-time national champion, who after Mary Lou Retton, was destined to be America’s next Olympic darling.
The baton was next passed on to Gabrielle Douglas in London 20 years later. She beat the much-favoured Russian pair of Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina to give the US individual gold, once more piling on the pressure in Rio. Enter Simone Biles. The pint-sized gymnast is a safe bet and heading into Sunday’s qualifying competition, is the athlete to watch in Rio. Unlike the other hopefuls, the three-times world champion is simply in a league of her own.
The 23 other competitors lining up for the all-round final come August 9 will know silver will be as good as it gets. Fuelling the anticipation is the 19-year-old’s individual brilliance on three of the four apparatus. Most all-round champions are known for their consistency, but Biles can win five golds including a team gold. The beam, only 10cm wide, is her playground.
Jam-packed with a series of difficult acrobatic and dance elements which already gives her a massive advantage start value wise, it is her dismount – a full twisting double tuck – that sends her routine up into the rafters. F-level elements are rare these days, so nailing a G-element as often as she does is unheard of. She also, just by the way, throws in a double layout half out on floor, and on vault, regularly nails the “Amanar” vault which includes two and a half twists after a back handspring.
At last year’s US Championships, Biles received a 16.300 for her Amanar, as close as you’ll get to a perfect 10 with the current scoring system. Her trials and tribulations growing up are well-documented but for now, let’s just celebrate the most dominant gymnast the world has ever seen.