Simone Biles Is the 'Greatest' Gymnast in History: Deconstructing Her Jaw-Dropping Dominance
Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Tim Daggett explains why Simone Biles is in a league of her own
Watch any gymnastics competition broadcast featuring three-time world champion and four-time national champion Simone Biles and, “I run out of adjectives talking about her,” former Olympic gold medalist and NBC gymnastics analyst Tim Daggett tells PEOPLE.
“Because of her dominance in the sport and how easy she makes the incredibly difficult things look, I would say that she is the greatest.”
Daggett is far from the only one who thinks so. Many more current and former gymnastics Olympians have said the 4’8″ Biles, who is headed to Rio next month, is the best their sport has ever seen. Her Summer Olympics teammate Aly Raisman is known for saying that anyone competing against Biles is just aiming for second place.
Biles, 19, often finishes all-around competitions multiple points ahead of the other athletes – a dominance that was previously unheard of in a sport where tenths of a point could determine silver vs. gold. Her difficulty is higher, her execution better. It’s been years since she didn’t place at the top of an all-around.
But what is it about Biles that makes her this good? It starts with her body, which is “absolutely” suited to “contemporary gymnastics,” says Daggett.
“She’s very compact and just extremely physically gifted. Powerful, quick, fast, muscular. A lot of sports favor a taller person, but in the sport of gymnastics, that’s not the case at all.”
From there, Daggett says it’s a unique combination of specific skills and strengths that put Biles head and (powerful) shoulders above the rest.
“She has excellent technique, which is always important. She creates a tremendous amount of force into the ground, and when she does that she has the body to be able to handle that,” Daggett explains. “Some people could maybe generate a lot of force going into the ground to get that rebound, but then they wouldn’t be able to handle it the way that she does. That’s predominantly because she’s so strong.”
“But it’s not just strong, it’s the absolute quickness. Those three things together – the good technique, the strength and the quickness – enable her to do these very difficult tumbling runs.”
There’s an added fourth element in gymnastics as well, notes Daggett, and that has to do with body awareness as athletes fly over the bars, beam, vault and floor.
She’s Kind of Like a Cat
“In gymnastics, when you’re in the air, we call it air sense: do you have good air sense or do you have bad air sense? She’s kind of like a cat, she always seems to know exactly where she is, and that helps as well,” says Daggett.
“Some people, if you don’t have four of these things, it just doesn’t work because if you’re lacking a little bit of air sense then it’s really challenging to go as hard as you possibly can because you’re doubting yourself, you don’t know where exactly you are at this given point, so you kind of hold back.”
And just how high does she go? Notes Daggett, “Certainly she’d go completely over an SUV I would say.”
Where She Shines the Brightest
Daggett, among other experts, says Biles could easily bring home five gold medals from Rio: from the team competition (which Team U.S.A. is heavily favored to win), the individual all-around competition, and in the finals for vault, beam and floor. Relatively speaking, uneven bars is her weakest event.
On the second night of the Olympic trials, Biles scored a whopping 16.2 on the vault out of her maximum score of 16.3 (a mere .1 deduction is nearly impossible in modern gymnastics). See her perform another near-perfect Amanar below from 2015.
“Her vault is just amazing,” says Daggett. “Next to her, the other gymnast that’s been singled out was McKayla Maroney from the last Olympic Games.”
Both gymnasts do a highly difficult vault called an Amanar. “People were blown away at what McKayla could do and how high she could go. Simone is just like that.” Watch a direct comparison of the two gymnasts performing the same vault in the Wall Street Journal video below.
And the sheer height she gets on floor is staggering. (See her tumbling compared to a male gymnast’s below.)
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The first tumbling pass of her Olympic floor routine (above) features a double layout (two backflips in a stretched position) with a full twist. “Other gymnasts have done it but no female gymnast can make it look that like,” says Daggett. “It’s just unreal.”
Her third tumbling pass, at which point she’s naturally a bit fatigued into her routine, is “much better than people who use it for their first tumbling pass,” he adds. “And she makes it look easier.”