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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Newsmaker: Simone Biles, the gravity challenger

The ace American gymnast, with her ‘triple-double’ act, defies time, physics and history

sports Updated: Aug 24, 2019 20:10 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times
Simone Biles at  the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships.
Simone Biles at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships.(AFP)
         

Simone Biles’s world bends the rules of gravity; it is ruled by propulsion, torque and fearlessness. In that zone, airborne and donning a sparkly leotard, she comes into her own.

Rotating her body mid-air on two axes simultaneously, Simone often ventures into a space where no one else has been before. Her latest act at the US Gymnastics Championships on August 12 stretched the boundaries even farther. She flipped sideways twice while rotating vertically thrice – the hallowed ‘triple-double.’ No woman could do it before, and only two men have achieved it in competition.

That shimmering act of agility took 1.18 seconds – her “hang-time” in the air, according to wired.com – a fleeting moment for the naked eye, but an eternity in physics. An average person can stay airborne for just over half-a-second with a good jump. Basketball legend Michael Jordan once achieved a hang-time of 0.928 seconds during a dunk contest in 1987. Simone eclipsed all that.

On her way to defying history, time, and physics, Simone touched a US record too. As she landed on the gymnastics floor, Simone, 22, became the first woman in half a century (and the second after Clara Schroth Lomady) to win a sixth US all-around title.

Her pioneering attempt has led the gymnastics governing body to give the ‘triple-double’ move a provisional difficulty rating of 1.0, the highest in gymnastics. If she is able to repeat it at the October 4-13 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, the ‘triple-double’ move will be named after her.

 

But watching her airborne is one thing; knowing where she had to take off from is another.

Both her parents struggled with addiction, and Simone and her three siblings went from one foster-care home to another from the time they were born; she was finally adopted by her grandparents when she was six.

It was the start of Simone’s journey. It would see her become the first African-American woman to win the World All-Around Gymnastics title in 2013 and then become the first woman to win three consecutive all-around titles at the World Gymnastics Championships. Then she set the Rio Olympics on fire with four gold medals.

But even here, something terrifying lurked in the backdrop. Simone’s emergence as a gymnast came at a time when US gymnastics was racked with revelations from former gymnasts about being sexually abused by the team’s former medical doctor, Larry Nassar. Hundreds of former gymnasts testified against Nassar. Simone did too; the only active gymnast to take the step.

Her sport too – living in that gravity-defying space – takes its toll.

“I am in pain most of the time,” she said in an interview. “I definitely plan for the Tokyo Olympics to be my last. I feel like my body’s gone through a lot and it’s kind of just falling apart.”

Yet, in Tokyo, there is no doubt she will soar. She will go to places no one has gone before.

Knowing Simone
Simone is the third sibling in a family of four children.

Her biological father Kelvin Clemons abandoned them early on while her mom Shanon Biles struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.

She was officially adopted by her grandfather Ron in 2003.

She participated in the 2017 Dancing With The Stars with Sasha Farber and finished fourthShe holds 14 gold medals at the World Championships and won the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year in 2017.