Olympics Recap: Simone Biles Makes History on Last Day of Gymnastics

Olympics News Rio 2016
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It’s been a few days, but Simone Biles is back on top. In her last event final, floor, Biles took gold, her fourth of the Olympics and fifth medal overall, both records for an American in a single Games.

While Biles is the first American to win four gymnastics gold medals at one Olympics, she joins Vera Caslavska (1968, Czechoslovakia), Larisa Latynina (1958, Soviet Union) and Ecaterina Szabo (1984, Romania) in the small group of women to pull off the feat. She joins Nastia Liukin (2008), Shannon Miller (1992) and Mary Lou Retton (1984) as the fourth American gymnast with five total medals, but Biles was the most successful of the group. Liukin and Retton only had one gold in that five, both wins in the all-around, and Miller had none.

In order to get that fourth gold, Biles had to beat out the rest of the field on floor, arguably her strongest event. Like most of the competition, Biles pulled away from the pack. With a nearly flawless routine — she had not just the highest start value (16.9), but also the highest execution score (9.066) — Biles won the event by 0.466. That’s the second biggest margin of victory in an event final, behind what Biles did on vault Sunday.

With the fourth gold and fifth medal overall, Biles wrapped up what was arguably the most dominant performance by any Olympic gymnast. Her all-around win was the best relative to the competition during the open scoring era and she has the two biggest margins of victory on individual events. Expectations have never been higher for a gymnast in the Olympics. There wasn’t just the possibility of five gold medals, it was probable, even though that had never been accomplished before.

In one Olympics Biles vaulted herself into the greatest ever conversation. Whether this is it or not, Biles’s work in Rio will go down as one of the best Olympic performances by any athlete ever. After this she said she’ll take a long break and a vacation because she deserves it — hard to argue there.

Biles’s teammate Aly Raisman was the closest to her in the floor competition, finishing with a silver medal. The silver was Raisman’s third of these Games, along with a gold in the team final and silver in the all-around. Added to Raisman’s three medals from London — gold in team and floor and bronze on beam — she moved into second all-time for most medals by an American gymnast behind Shannon Miller with seven.

In a world without Biles, Raisman very well could be considered the best gymnast in the world. Biles finished 2.1 point above Raisman in the all-around, but Raisman was an impressive 1.433 points ahead of the third place finisher. On floor Biles finished 0.466 ahead of Raisman, but Raisman was 0.567 ahead of third.

It would be impressive enough for a 22-year-old making a comeback, but the amount Raisman improved her gymnastics from 2012 to 2016 is really what made her performance in Rio special. It also appears to be why Raisman isn’t fully committing to hanging it up just yet. After the competition concluded, Raisman was asked by several different outlets about her future and her response about another comeback was “never say never.”

Raisman would be 26 years old during the Tokyo Olympics, though that would not be unprecedented for an American. In 2004, Annia Hatch was 26 years old in Athens and she was part of the silver medal winning team and also won a silver medal individually on vault. It’s also possible the new gymnastics rules for Tokyo will make it easier for a comeback. The gymnasts allowed per team will shrink to four, but each country will also be allowed to qualify two specialists for a total of six gymnasts. If Raisman wanted to come back but couldn’t do all-around, it would be possible for her to just compete on floor one more time as an Olympian.

But Tokyo is still four years away for everyone and we shouldn’t allow this speculation to take away from what was accomplished in Rio. Gymnastics continues to evolve every year and what happened over the past two weeks in Rio — especially from Biles and Raisman — was some of the best gymnastics ever seen.

A Redemption Story

Danell Leyva was not on the U.S. Olympic Team after Trials, he was named an alternate. The pommel horse/parallel bars/high bar role was instead given to John Orozco that weekend in St. Louis. An unfortunate injury to Orozco in training opened up a spot for Leyva, the only American male gymnast with a medal from London, just before the Olympics were set to begin. Leyva made the most of his opportunity and again came away as the most decorated man on the team with two individual silver medals, on parallel bars and high bar, both won on Tuesday.

In London, Leyva was the only U.S. man on the team to come away with a medal — a bronze in the all-around. He was not brought to Rio as an all-arounder, but he made event finals on two of the three events he competed.

Leyva had the unenviable task of going first on parallel bars, but he set the tone with the cleanest routine of the final with a high 9.0 execution score. He was going to have to be clean, because his routine was not among the most difficult in the final. Leyva’s parallel bar routine started at a 16.9, but four routines started at a 17.1 or above.

The routine routine that eclipsed Leyva’s in score was that of Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev, the silver medalist in the all-around. It wasn’t much of a surprise, since parallel bars was where Verniaiev looked to have pulled away from Japan’s Kohei Uchimura in the all-around final before Uchimura came back on high bar. But this time Verniaiev was able to keep his lead and finally grab an Olympic gold medal. Russia’s David Belyavsky won the bronze.

After a break for women’s floor, it was on to the high bar, arguably the most exciting event in gymnastics. First up was Fabian Hambuechen of Germany, who finished with a bronze in Beijing and silver in London on this event. Like Leyva on parallel bars, he set the tone for high bar with a difficult and clean routine which received a score of 15.766. Though unlike Leyva, that score would not be beat and Hambuechen got his gold medal on high bar.

Next was the reigning gold medalist on the event and 2016 favorite, Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands. However, Zonderland fell on his second release of an opening combination, which eliminated him from medal contention. American Sam Mikulak also put up a solid routine but he missed a medal by 0.66, behind bronze medalist Nile Wilson of Great Britain, which was the fourth individual medal for Great Britain in these games.

Leyva had the last routine of the day, and of the Olympics. While he had a difficulty disadvantage on parallel bars, Leyva has one of the world’s hardest high bar routines and his start value of 17.3 was only matched by Hambuechen. It was a hit routine with just a small hop on the dismount, and the score put him just behind Hambuechen with a 15.5.

It was a great way to end all of the gymnastics in Rio. The Olympics had a little bit of everything this time around. The women’s side saw some of the most dominating performances ever, while the men had some of the closest and dramatic finishes ever. Whatever someone was looking for, Rio presented it. It’s four years away, but Tokyo is going to have a lot to live up to.

Dan Pizzuta is a freelance writer and former Division I gymnast at Temple University.

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