RIO DE JANEIRO – The unapologetic pursuit of perfection is probably a requirement to finding yourself en route to five Olympic gold medals, so maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Yet after Simone Biles’ first attempt in the vault final here Sunday, the American was displeased and unsatisfied with her performance. Her landing on the Amanar, which requires two-and-a-half twists in the backward salto position, wasn’t quite what she hoped.
“She wasn’t exactly happy with her first vault,” said Aimee Boorman, Biles’ coach. “She thought she could have done better.”
There is always better. There is only one Simone Biles.
[Slideshow: Olympic photos of the day for Aug. 14]
That first vault that she didn’t like, it earned Biles a 15.900, which was 0.367 higher than any other gymnast scored on a single vault. She then followed it up with a meet-high 16.033 to take gold handily with an average of 15.966.
That was not just far ahead of Russian silver medalist Maria Paseka, who finished with 15.253, but was also the highest score ever in a vault final in an Olympics or world championships. She isn’t just the greatest ever all-around American gymnast, but she’s now the best ever on vault, too.
“I looked up to Alicia Sacramone and McKayla Maroney [the previous best American vaulters ever] so much on vault, so that is very exciting,” Biles said.
It’s now three down, two to go for Simone Biles, as the American sensation seeks to become the first gymnast to win five gold medals in a single Olympics (only six are possible).
The 19-year-old from Spring, Texas, just outside Houston, previously won the women’s all-around gold and was part of the United States championship in the team competition.
On Monday, Biles competes in the balance beam final and finishes up Tuesday in the floor exercise final. She has produced the highest scores in each of those disciplines throughout the week — qualifying, team and all-around.
Biles did not reach the uneven bars final (Madison Kocian and Gabby Douglas handled that for the Americans). That is the only thing that may keep her from the perfect Olympics, perhaps leaving a carrot for her to chase at Tokyo 2020 or some future gymnastics genius to pursue.
At this point, five golds is the goal but three will more than do. Biles jumped around and beamed at the victory, fulfilling her promise to take every day here as its own blessing and not try to focus on the totality of the potential domination. The crowd at Rio Olympic Arena, thrilled to see a gymnast of obvious historic ability, roared every time she appeared on the big screen and went wild on each attempt.
So obvious was her victory that other competitors congratulated her even before her final score came in. When it was announced, Biles hardly reacted.
“I was happy,” she explained after. “[It’s just] I knew I had done it.”
One of the challenges remaining for Biles is to remain focused the next two days. Boorman, her coach, says she is living in “a bubble” designed to limit outside distractions. Biles was allowed only a brief meeting with her family on Friday.
Still, only so much can be done. On Sunday, she was asked numerous non-gymnastics questions, including whether she would like to perform on an upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars.”
“I would,” she said. “But I can’t dance.”
Biles knows that, as much as she seeks to remain humble in the face of the challenge, there are times even she can’t deny what is happening.
“Sometimes,” Biles said, “I lay in bed and I’m impressed with myself, [saying] ‘Simone, you did it.’ Yes, I did.”
Again and again and again. And maybe two more times, too.