Four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles was beset with challenges during the women’s all-around final at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday.
A kidney stone was giving her trouble. She fell off the balance beam. During a floor routine, she veered out of bounds.
And yet, she still made history.
Biles, 21, took the gold medal, making her the first female gymnast to win four all-around world titles.
The Internet exploded with messages of congratulations and praise, many lauding Biles as the “GOAT” or “Greatest of All Time.” But Biles expressed disappointment with herself.
“It’s not the gymnast that I am, to go out there and kind of bomb a meet like this,” she told the Associated Press. “Even though I won, I wish it were a little bit different.”
For Biles, the day began with the vault, where she is the reigning Olympic champion.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped onto the runway and readied herself. Biles was about to attempt “the Biles,” an extraordinarily difficult vault that was named after her just days ago in qualifications, less than 24 hours removed from going to the ER for a kidney stone, Deadspin reported. “The Biles” involves a roundoff, half-twist onto the vaulting table followed by a front double full somersault — a move so challenging “even some of the top men don’t bother trying it,” USA Today columnist Nancy Armour wrote.
While Biles had executed her signature move almost flawlessly in the qualification round, Thursday’s attempt didn’t go quite as smoothly.
Her left arm appeared to only graze the top of the vaulting table and she came up short on the landing, sending her rolling backward onto the mat. Popping straight up, Biles’s face lacked her trademark smile.
NBC Sports reporter Nick Zaccardi tweeted that before Thursday’s vault, Biles “went without a fall in her first 55 routines between the Olympics and worlds . . . Incredible.”
Despite sitting down, Biles was still in medal contention, as a score of 14.533 — largely due to the vault’s difficulty score — put her in third place with three apparatuses left, the AP reported.
Up next was the uneven bars, which, according to Deadspin, was historically “Biles’s weakest and least favorite event.” On Thursday, however, it appeared to mark the beginning of her redemption.
Moving effortlessly between the bars, Biles ended with a dismount that had so much air “she might have changed a lightbulb or two,” Armour wrote.
That performance boosted her in the rankings and things seemed like they were looking up. Then, Biles did a balance beam routine that left fans, competitors and her stunned — and not in a good way.
Not only did Biles fall off the beam attempting a front flip with a half twist, but she flailed wildly to catch her balance on a front piked somersault.
Even with the hiccups, Biles still entered the final rotation, heading to the floor exercise, with a lead of 0.092, NBC Sports reported.
According to the AP, Biles briefly considered decreasing the difficulty of her routine to secure a win, but promptly dismissed the idea.
“I would never,” she said, and she didn’t hold back.
Biles’s first tumbling pass had so much power she had to fight to say within bounds, one of her feet going ever so slightly into the red.
The minor misstep would be the only error in her monster of a routine, which shot her into first place and secured the win. She beat her teammate and 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd and Japan’s Mai Murakami by more than 1.6 points, her largest margin of victory at worlds, USA Today reported. Murakami claimed silver and Hurd the bronze.
“It’s absolutely insane that she fell twice and won,” Hurd told the AP. “I have no words.”
The Internet was equally shocked.
Some theorized that her uncharacteristic mistakes may have been the result of her kidney stone, but Biles was quick to refute that.
“If it were a challenge for me, I wouldn’t have competed at all,” she told USA Gymnastics, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I think it was just a matter of concentration.”
The historic victory is a testament to Biles’s ability to “push it to the limit,” her coach, Laurent Landi, told USA Today.
“When it goes very well, it’s amazing,” Landi said. “When it doesn’t go well, it’s still good enough.”
Biles, however, wasn’t happy with “good enough.”
“I’m still pretty disappointed in myself because I know what I can do out there,” she said in an interview with USA Gymnastics. “I kind of hoped that it didn’t turn out the way it did. I feel like the girls worked so hard and they deserve it a little bit better than me because it depends on how you do that day and today wasn’t my best.”
The world champion, who plans to compete in all four upcoming event finals, even tweeted an apology.
“It just sucks that I did so bad and I still won,” she told the AP. “I wish it could not happen. You have to earn it, and I’m not sure I earned it tonight.”