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At the age of 18, Simone Biles is already one of the most decorated female gymnasts in American history. The only thing missing? An Olympic gold medal.
The Spring, Texas, native has yet to quality for the 2016 Olympic Games, but with two World Championship wins in the all-around competition under her belt, she’s widely expected to be the women’s gymnastics favorite in Rio de Janeiro next summer.
Gymnastics, one of the most popular sporting events during the Summer Olympics, doesn’t draw sizeable television audiences during the years in between Games, so Biles is not yet a household name. That could all change in Rio. “If I won gold in 2016, I think it would change my life,” says Biles, who stands tall despite her compact 4-foot-9-inch frame. Here are the most important things to know about Biles before she bursts onto the scene next summer.
1. She’s on a winning streak
Biles started her senior career in 2013 and immediately made a name for herself, taking the all-around title at the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships in August of that year. Since then, she’s gone undefeated in the all-around competition and is currently the reigning national champion and world champion. But this hot-streak doesn’t make her a shoo-in for the Olympics. First, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team must qualify for Rio at the World Championships this fall in Glasgow, Scotland. Then, Biles must qualify for the American team at the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose next July. “We have to focus on World Championships and then we start the year over before we can even think about the Olympics,” Biles says. “We have so many more meets that we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves.”
2. She’s making history
With a dominating performance at the 2013 World Championships in Belgium — one that earned her four medals, including two gold — she became the first female African-American all-around world champion. “I think it inspires a lot of the little girls out there to go in the gym and train harder,” she says of that accomplishment. “They say, ‘oh, maybe I can achieve it since she achieved it, just like Gabby Douglas was the first African American to win the [women’s Olympic] all-around title.’ I think it just pushes all of them.” But she hasn’t stopped there. In 2014, Biles became only the second American woman to repeat as the world all-around champion. This year, she could become the first woman ever to win three straight World all-around titles.
3. She has a fan club
With more than 27,000 Twitter followers and 194,000 Instagram followers, Biles proves that she’s as much a powerhouse on social media as she is on the vault. But those aren’t her only fans. Former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton recently called Biles “the most talented gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life” and 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin has said “you can’t really compare her to anybody.” That’s because Biles has a power and strength in competition that few can rival. “She is the first female gymnast I have ever seen that is as powerful, or maybe more, than the most powerful male gymnast,” two-time Olympian Jonathan Horton said during an on-camera interview earlier this month.
4. Los Angeles is in her future
After the Olympics, Biles‘ next big goal is college. The recent high school graduate has already committed to attending UCLA. Biles was homeschooled from eight grade until she graduated from high school last spring, a sacrifice she says was necessary to reach the next level in her training. “If I had a competition, I had to leave [school] for like a month; I would take my schoolwork with me,” she explains. “I didn’t get the high school opportunity, but it always worked out.” She says she’s excited for a more traditional college experience, but don’t expect to see her suiting up with the Bruins gymnastics team. Biles announced on Wednesday that she is turning pro ahead of the Olympics and has signed with sports agency Octagon, the same company that represents swimming sensation Michael Phelps.
5. She has fun, too
Biles spends 32 hours a week in her gym, the World Champion Center in Houston, and while most of her training is hard work, she finds time for a little fun. With a big grin and silly personality, Biles is known for inventing new skills during training. One move, a complex flip that she incorporated into her floor routine during the 2013 World Championships, is even named the “Biles” after her. Her spunkiness came through during the 2014 World Championships when she ran away from a bee while on the podium accepting her all-around gold medal at the 2014 World Championships. The YouTube video subsequently went viral.
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