ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Not even a slight stumble near the end could stop Simone Biles. Less than three months after returning to competition, the American superstar is back at the top of world gymnastics once again.
Biles overcame a late blip in her floor routine after an otherwise dominant performance to win the individual all-around title at the world championships for the sixth time on Friday. That made her the most decorated gymnast in history, two years after she put her career on hold to focus on her mental health following the Tokyo Olympics.
Even for someone who has now stood atop that world championship podium 21 times, that was enough to draw some tears during the medal ceremony in Antwerp — the Belgian city where Biles started her collection of titles a decade ago as a 16-year-old.
“You guys are actually never going to believe me, but I’ve had something in my eye for like four hours today that I could not get out,” Biles said. “So whenever I was staring at the podium, if I look up, it really hits my eye.”
Biles then acknowledged she was moved.
“Because 10 years ago, I won my first worlds. Now we’re back here. So it was emotional,” she said. “It means everything to me, the fight, everything that I’ve put in to get back to this place, feel comfortable and confident enough to compete.”
Biles scored 58.399 points across the balance beam, floor, vault and uneven bars to beat Rebeca Andrade, the Brazilian defending champion, by 1.633 points. Biles’ U.S. teammate Shilese Jones took the bronze medal with 56.332 points.
It was Biles’ 27th world championship medal — and 21st gold. It came two days after the four-time Olympic gold medalist led the U.S women to a record seventh straight win in the team event.
And it came after a two-year break following her appearance in the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, which was plagued by a bout with a mental block known as “ the twisties.” She was expected to repeat as individual all-around champion in Tokyo but removed herself from competition to focus on her mental well-being.
She said the therapy sessions and the breathing and visualization exercises she has been doing on a regular basis since have helped her recover.
“I was so much more nervous for team finals because that’s when everything occurred (in Tokyo), so I was a little bit traumatized from that. So today I felt a little bit more relaxed,” she said. “So I’m happy that that’s over.”
Biles now has 34 medals across the world championships and Olympics, making her the most decorated gymnast ever — male or female — at the sport’s two signature events ahead of the retired Vitaly Scherbo.
Her six all-around world titles also ties the all-time record,
“Every day I try to think about it, especially in therapy when we talk about it,” Biles said about her record-breaking achievements. “And I think that’s when all the emotions come up. And I really think about what I’ve done and what we’ve done to the sport and push that forward. So I think it’s really exciting. But all in all, I don’t think it will hit me until I retire and then look back and see everything I’ve done.”
Biles’ only blip came right at the end, as she was about to wrap up her floor routine. After a near-flawless display, she tripped near the end of her routine as she was about to enter a sequence of leaps. But she recovered in style, and it didn’t cost her enough of a points deduction to rob her of the gold.
“I know my parents had a heart attack,” Biles told her coach.
With the Olympics Games in less than a year in Paris, Biles is back to her very best. And despite the fierce competition from Andrade and Jones, she remains a cut above the rest — a full decade after she started her reign.
“She is like wine, she is better with age,” her coach Cecile Landi said.