October 25, 2015

SCAZZERO | Simone Biles and the World Championships

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Gymnastics is the kind of sport that no one really cares about until the Olympics roll around. It’s not really a classic “fan” sport like basketball or football, but every four years come Olympic season, suddenly everyone cares about the super swole girls in tight glittery spandex doing flips. Obviously, these women don’t just suddenly appear every four years and most of them have been training all their lives for that moment.

It takes a ridiculous amount of hours training— roughly 1,500 by the time they become elites — and even then these women are not guaranteed a shot at the Olympics. In a study by USA Gymnastics in 2009, they found that out of the 68,797 U.S. athletes participating in women’s gymnastics in total, only 79 of them were elite. Only five women can make it on the Olympic team, so the odds of making it to the Olympics are ridiculously slim. The next time you ask a gymnast you know if they are going to the Olympics, they are probably going to say no. Actually, just don’t ask.

But let’s talk about the lucky few that have actually made it to that level. Over the next two weeks, the World Championships in Gymnastics are being held in Glasgow, Scotland. This is the meet where countries compete to qualify for the Olympics and where we get a better idea of which tiny superhumans are going to represent the United States come next August. I know it’s a few months before people start to actually remember the sport exists, but here’s a little breakdown of how the Championships have gone so far and a little preview of what we’re going to see next August.

First of all, the United States is killing it. After the conclusion of the Women’s Team Qualification, the U.S. team led by five points even with a bit of a rocky performance. The other seven teams that qualified for the Olympics are Russia, Great Britain, China, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands (Romania didn’t qualify, which was a big upset and a blow to the Romanian gymnastics coach stereotype).

Second of all, Simone Biles should be a name you know before August. Seriously, YouTube her, she is unreal. The 18-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, is the United States’ top gymnast and is on a completely different level than her competitors. She won with an all-around score of 61.598, roughly five points higher than the second place score, a 57.64 from Giulia Steingruber from Switzerland. Biles had the highest floor score of the meet, competing with her signature move (yep, it’s called the Biles), a double-layout half out. She also earned a 16 on vault, the only of that meet.

Her amazing performance is no surprise to gymnasts. She’s a three-time national all-around champion, a two-time world floor champion, the 2014 world beam champion and she’s only been competing in the senior elite division for two years. Casual. The other relatively newer faces on the United States’ team are Maggie Nichols, Brenna Dowell and Madison Kocian. They all had a relatively strong showing, save a few falls, but were able to keep the United States firmly in the lead.

There were also two familiar faces at Worlds, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman — both were members of the 2012 Olympic squad. Usually it’s considered insane for past Olympians to try and come back for the next Olympics, since in recent years, it hasn’t worked out for any that have tried (see Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson). Not to their discredit — they were obviously incredible gymnasts, technically the best in the world. But gymnastics is a cruel sport and beyond age 18, you’re basically an old-timer and there are too many eager and talented youngsters rising up to take your spot. It’s actually extremely impressive that both Douglas and Raisman are still competing at the same, if not better, level than they were four years ago.

Douglas finished third all-around with a 57.516 after having a glitch on beam and Raisman finished in fifth with a 56.798 and a fall on bars. Despite their mistakes, they’re still both currently in the Top-five in the world. Raisman aptly summed it up in an interview after the meet saying, “It was probably one of the worst meets I’ve ever had in my life and I’m still (fifth) in the world, so that’s pretty ridiculous”. Yes it is ridiculous, Aly. It also basically sums up the United States’ dominance in the sport right now, given that the team came in first despite some major mistakes. So although none of the spots are locked in (except for Biles, because duh), be prepared for a killer U.S. Squad at next year’s Olympics. It should make your once-every-four-years viewing of gymnastics that much more awesome.