Emma Keeling: Simone Biles proves sports legends wear leotards too

Yes, that’s correct, I said she. I’m comparing her to our most talented male athletes as if she is an equal. Yes, you may sit down. Now breathe deeply, the rage and/or horror will soon pass. It took my male boss a wee while.

When I explained I was going to write about Simone Biles, the world’s best gymnast, he pointed out Kiwis may not know who she is.

Simone Biles won gold this month at the world championships despite dealing with the pain from kidney stones.
GETTY IMAGESSimone Biles won gold this month at the world championships despite dealing with the pain from kidney stones.

That’s boss speak for, ‘But she’s only 1.45m tall, competes in a minor sport, is just 21, and even if she’s a four-time Olympic champ, as well as a vocal champion for women who stands up to authority, that doesn’t mean you can realistically compare her to a male boxing God!’

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Soz about that.  Anyway, where was I? Ahh yes, Simone Biles is a sporting legend in the making.

Simone Biles was one of the stars of the Rio Olympics.
LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/GETTY IMAGTESSimone Biles was one of the stars of the Rio Olympics.

If you’re a bloke reading this you may be tempted to turn to the 101 rugby stories in this paper today but before you leave I have two words; kidney stones. I’m told God created them to give men some idea of what childbirth is like.

Just 24 hours before the world championships in Doha this month, Biles was in an emergency room with a kidney stone too big to pass.  She was ‘crawling on the floor’ in pain but couldn’t take medication because of doping regulations. They wanted her to rest. She checked out.  That’s bad-ass. Even Ali might have hit the canvas.

Next day she did, with a couple of falls, her first in over 60 career routines at the Olympics or world champs.  Her ‘fans’ criticised her for not winning more golds.  Annoyed, she took time in between events to berate them, explaining that only she set expectations for herself.  She became the first woman to win a fourth-all round title, and most decorated female gymnast ever and still felt she could’ve done better.  

Simone Biles competes in the balance beam at the world championships in Qatar this month.
GETTY IMAGESSimone Biles competes in the balance beam at the world championships in Qatar this month.

Biles faces the world as if she has Serena Williams’ head on her shoulders. She’s described as the most talented in history.  Sometimes she seems to be channelling Oprah such is her level of self-awareness. She took almost 18 months off after the Olympics to avoid burnout at a time many would fear losing their form or spot and still blew the sequins off the opposition.

While the world has become more enlightened we still live in a time when sexual abuse victims are judged and even taunted by presidents. Despite this, she and over 160 fellow gymnasts were brave enough to come forward and out former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who’s now serving a life sentence.

The courage shown by these women is in stark contrast to USA Gymnastics which intentionally flipped, somersaulted and twisted away from the multiple allegations made against Nassar and others in the sport.

Biles was not in court with survivors but has placed the blame for Nassar’s unchecked abuse at the feet of USA Gymnastics and has kept the pressure on during the fallout.  She has held her sport to account and this week the United States Olympic Committee agreed, announcing it would seek to strip USA Gymnastics of its status as a national governing body. While the USAG continues to pull on its leotard over its head, Biles raises the bar.

She’s now level with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina as the most decorated female gymnast in world championship history. Usain Bolt ran fast, forwards which was a sight to behold but Biles defies the laws of physics, a bone-headed ruling body and thousands of trolls at the social media gate.

Like Ali, Simone Biles stays off the ropes and fearlessly keeps on swinging.  But you’re right, they shouldn’t be compared. They should stand side by side as true champions in every sense of the word.  Legends, in the making, wear leotards too.

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