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Opinion: What does it take to impress Simone Biles? Not her own accomplishments

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INDIANAPOLIS — She impressed LeBron James, and amazed Michelle Obama. Serena Williams’ husband called her a “national treasure.”

Simone Biles knows she does things mere mortals cannot. And while there are times she recognizes what she is doing is exceptional, it’s hard for her to comprehend just how extraordinary other people think she is, and how agog they are at what she does.

“I’m the one on the field, so you don’t really feel it. Because, to me, it’s what I do every day,” she told USA TODAY Sports last month. “But then people don’t see that every day. So then they’re really amazed.

“But for me it's just like, 'Oh, just another day in the gym.' "

Biles had “another day in the gym” on Saturday at the U.S. Classic, when she became the first woman to land a Yurchenko double pike in competition. Videos of her doing the vault in training had already gone viral – that’s where James, James Harden and Alexis Ohanian, Williams’ husband, saw it – and the Internet exploded after she did it during the meet.

Simone Biles becomes the first woman to land a Yurchenko double pike in competition at the U.S. Classic.
Simone Biles becomes the first woman to land a Yurchenko double pike in competition at the U.S. Classic.

Biles quickly started trending on Twitter, and the video clip of the vault has been viewed more than 4.5 million times. That includes by the former First Lady, who posted it Sunday on Twitter and Instagram.

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“Always amazed by you,” Obama wrote, her message accompanied by the smiley face with heart eyes and star emojis. “Keep shining – we’re rooting for you!”

While those who know gymnastics immediately appreciate just how absurd Biles’ skills are, it’s not always as easy for those who are casual fans.

When you’ve fallen over trying a cartwheel, every tumbling pass on floor exercise is going to look impossible. When you’ve tripped over your own feet walking on flat ground, the notion of aerial somersaults on a 4-inch wide beam that is 4 feet off the ground is going to make your hands sweat.

But there is something about Biles’ latest vault that makes it obvious it is something special.

Perhaps it’s the height she gets, launching herself a good 6 or 7 feet above the vaulting table. Or maybe it’s the obvious degree of danger. With her body piked – bent at the waist, her hands gripping her straight legs – there is no bailout from the vault. If her hand placement is off on the table, or she doesn’t get enough height, she could very well land on her neck.

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Whatever it was, people knew this was a MOMENT.

“It is pretty crazy,” Biles said on NBC afterward. “It’s also really nice to see all the support from athletes all over the world.”

Biles can very much appreciate the accomplishments of other athletes. Her boyfriend, Jonathan Owens, is a safety with the Houston Texans, so that interception J.J. Watt returned for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions last season was pretty cool. She has always been a Williams fan.

But if Biles let herself think too much about the magnitude of what she’s doing, she wouldn’t be able to actually do all those spectacular things.

“We’ve seen the progression. We’ve seen the steps,” said Cecile Landi, who coaches Biles along with her husband, Laurent. “She didn’t wake up one day and do the double pike. There were steps that we saw. But other people, they only see the end result.

“Even the other girls at the gym, it’s incredible what she’s doing, but they don’t react like other people because they see all the work she’s done to be there,” Cecile Landi said. “I think people forget she works really hard to be able to do what she does.”

Biles also isn’t defying gravity, and the killjoys at the International Gymnastics Federation, because she wants her ego stroked. She’s doing it to challenge herself, to see how far she can push the limits of the sport.

“Because I can do it,” she said when she was asked why she bothers if the FIG is going to continually undervalue her groundbreaking skills. “Because I’m capable of it.”

Biles is humbled that others are so impressed by her and her accomplishments. She's grateful for the spotlight she gets – in part because it brings attention to her sport and other gymnasts.

And there might come a time when she, too, will understand the hype. When she'll watch a video of herself and shake her head, wondering how exactly she did that.

“Probably not until I'm done with the sport and I've kind of put it past me and I look back in a couple of years,” she said. “When I probably can't do it anymore.”

Only then will she be like the rest of us.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Olympics: What does it take to impress US Olympian Simone Biles?