Simone Biles has absolutely no idea just how much her life is about to change.
Of the 111 athletes attending the three-day U.S. Olympic Summit this week, Biles has the most to gain in Rio de Janeiro this summer. The Spring resident is the favorite to win this country’s most popular Olympic summer sport.
I think right now it’s so big, and I don’t think it could get bigger, but I guess it does.
Simone Biles on her celebrity
Winning the all-around Olympic gold medal in gymnastics brings with it popularity, celebrity and endorsement deals.
“I can’t even imagine,” Biles, 18, said Monday. “I think right now it’s so big, and I don’t think it could get bigger, but I guess it does.”
Gabby Douglas cashed in four years ago when she became the first African-American gymnast to win the all-around gold medal. Douglas’ story, nickname, personality and smile made her a winner after the London Games.
Biles’ story, personality and smile are as good, if not better, and she already has her place in history.
Her parents — the ones she calls mom and dad — are her grandparents, having adopted her and her younger sister, Adria, because of her biological mother’s drug and alcohol addiction. Ron Biles, her grandfather-turned-father, grew up in a Cleveland housing project, and Nellie Biles, her grandmother-turned-mother, is in Belize without modern comforts.
The family now lives in a 6,000-square-foot home in a Houston suburb, having just built a 56,000-square-foot gymnastics facility called World Champions Centre.
“It’s just a blessing,” said Biles, who, like Douglas, is African-American.
The New York Times recently called Biles the best American gymnast “since, well, probably ever.” Biles smiles and giggles at the reference, displaying a charming innocence.
Simone Biles’ 14 overall world championship medals are more than any American woman in history.
It’s true Biles has done things no other American female gymnast has ever done. In fact, she’s done things no other gymnast in history has ever done.
Biles has won three consecutive world all-around titles, a first in her sport, and her 10 world championship gold medals rank as the most all time for any woman. Her 14 overall world championship medals are more than any American woman in history.
I still think like Mary Lou [Retton] and all those other great athletes who set the path for us to be where we are now are still the greatest and way above me. Can’t thank them enough.
But the Olympics remain the ultimate measuring stick in the sport, and until Biles does what she’s supposed to do in Rio, she can’t plant her flag atop the gymnastics mountain.
“I still think like Mary Lou [Retton] and all those other great athletes who set the path for us to be where we are now are still the greatest and way above me,” Biles said. “Can’t thank them enough.”
Retton became the first American to win the all-around title in 1984. It took 20 years, though, before the U.S. took ownership of the sport. Carly Patterson won it in 2004, Nastia Liukin in ’08 and Douglas in ’12.
She’s so powerful and so quick it’s amazing. I love watching her, because she’s such a fierce competitor. [Her talent is] given. It was given to her.
Gabby Douglas on Simone Biles
Although Douglas has returned to defend her title, “The Flying Squirrel” finds herself an underdog again as Biles is the overwhelming favorite.
“It’s definitely a talent she was given for sure,” Douglas said of Biles. “She’s so powerful and so quick it’s amazing. I love watching her, because she’s such a fierce competitor. [Her talent is] given. It was given to her.”
It’s Biles’ medal to win.
“It’s one of the few things I haven’t accomplished yet, but it’s another step in goal-setting,” Biles said. “You always want to do bigger and better. It’s really exciting, and I’m excited for the journey.”
While getting something to drink at a lobby coffee shop this week, Biles looked up to see a life-sized decal of herself — all 4-foot-9 —plastered on a window of the Beverly Hills Hilton.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me!’ ” Biles said.
People are starting to recognize her in public, ask for her autograph and pose for selfies with her.
“It’s actually weird,” she said. “I was out here in LA [on Sunday], and people were recognizing me, and I just thought it was so weird. It’s good I guess. It’s still different, but it’s OK.”
Get used to it, Simone. This is only the beginning.
The best is yet to come.