Simone Biles crowned all-around world champion for a record sixth time

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In the two years since Simone Biles returned home from the Olympics mentally and physically empty, it has taken everything for her to make it back to the top. She first had to withdraw from her sport in order to heal, with many hours spent in therapy. Since her return, she has thrown herself back in like never before.

It is a result of that hard work, commitment and mental strength, as well as her unparalleled talent, that Biles is once again, officially, the best gymnast in the world. On Friday, Biles won a record-extending sixth world all-around title at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp with a score of 58.399.

“It was emotional, and it means everything,” said Biles afterwards. “The fight, everything that I’ve put in to get back to this place, feel comfortable and confident enough to compete. It was a lot.”

Even though Biles towered over her rivals, the quality of her closest contenders was still incredibly high. In a brilliant tussle for silver and bronze that came down to a dramatic final floor rotation, Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, last year’s champion, won silver by scoring 56.766. Shilese Jones, Biles’ teammate, took bronze with 56.332. Biles now has 34 world and Olympic medals, more than any gymnast, man or woman, in the history of the sport.

The evening, though, began with massive disappointment. Moments before the gymnasts walked out into the arena, British Gymnastics announced that Jessica Gadirova had withdrawn from the competition “as a precautionary measure”. Gadirova had qualified for the final in third place and she had been one of the top medal prospects.

Despite being drafted in at short notice as a replacement, Alice Kinsella performed well, hitting all four routines and finishing in seventh place. After a solid day of her own, Ondine Achampong finished 13th.

In a show of her peerless excellence, Biles opted to perform her Cheng vault over the far riskier Yurchenko double pike, yet she performed it so well that it scored nearly as highly as the considerably more difficult vault. Biles stuck her Cheng vault cold, receiving an enormous score of 15.1. Andrade is one of the best ever performers of the Chen alongside Biles, yet she already trailed the American by 0.4 points after the first rotation.

Simone Biles

Biles continued her rock solid form throughout, easily navigating a secure uneven bars routine to earn another strong score of 14.333, the sixth highest score on the apparatus in the final despite it being her weakest. She then worked through another smooth and confident balance beam routine. By the final rotation, nothing but a catastrophe on the floor exercise could have stopped Biles from winning.

The real intrigue was directly behind her as Andrade stepped out of bounds on the floor but did just enough to hold off Jones, who pulled off an incredible save, stumbling during a tumbling pass yet somehow completing it. As 24-year-old Andrade and Jones, 21, took their medals alongside Biles, they collectively made history. It is the first time that all three world all-around medalists are over the age of 20 and that three black women stood atop the world all-around podium.

“I thought that was amazing,” said Biles. “Black girl magic. Hopefully it just teaches all the young girls out there that you can do anything you put your minds to.”

As every competitor watched on, Biles, as usual, stepped up to the floor to perform the final routine of the night. Although she pounded through four brilliant tumbling passes, it was not perfect. Biles comically tripped while attempting a leap, which she later blamed on her general clumsiness. Such is her dominance, it didn’t matter. She laughed at the error in the middle of her routine and her floor score of 14.533 was still the highest of the night as it sealed her gold medal.

Afterwards, Biles said that Wednesday’s team final had brought up memories of her withdrawal from the Olympics team final in Tokyo. After leading the United States to gold this week, Biles said she had a session with her therapist.

“I was so much more nervous for team finals just because that’s when everything [in Tokyo] occurred so I was a little bit traumatised from that,” she said. “So today I felt a little more relaxed.”

Along with her excellence and mental fortitude, this return is a triumph of Biles’s longevity. Few can mentally and physically withstand a decade of elite gymnastics while competing at such a high level throughout. For so many gymnasts who are willing to put themselves through so much strife, their bodies often decide the length of their careers for them.

But despite the difficulty of her gymnastics and the way she has constantly pushed her sport forward, the 26-year-old has looked after her body incredibly well, she has maintained her passion for the sport through so many life-changing challenges and, 10 years after her first triumph, she remains untouchable.

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