Rio de Janeiro: Simone Biles bowed out of her fabulous Olympic debut in Rio with a record-equalling fourth gold, short of the record five she sought, but with her name in lights among the gymnastics greats.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’ve enjoyed every moment,” said the Texan whose early life struggles had not set her out as the future face of women’s gymnastics.
The 19-year-old took gold on floor on Tuesday ahead of US teammate Amy Raisman, muscles flexed and with the steely determination she had shown on her way to the team, all-around and vault titles.
The only blip standing between her and history, a slip on the beam on the penultimate day of competition, which gave her bronze.
She is the fifth woman to win four gold at the same Games after Hungarian Agnes Keleti (1956), Soviet Larissa Latynina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romanian Ecaterina Szabo (1984).
But Biles remains unfazed.
“To walk away from your first Olympics with five medals and four in gold, how can you be disappointed,” she said. “It’s exciting it’s over, but kind of sad too.”
Biles missed London 2012 because she was too young to compete but has dominated gymnastics in the four-year cycle since.
Finishing off on the podium beside her idol Raisman, 22, was more than she could have hoped for.
“I remember watching her (in London) and saying ‘I just want to be like her’. Just standing next to her is amazing. It’s the cherry on top me and Aly finishing 1-2 on the floor.”
Her long-time coach Aimee Boorman believes the sport will never be the same after the Biles whirlwind.
“Right now I would say she’s the greatest gymnast,” said Boorman, who has coached Biles since she was six years old.
“She has really raised the bar. But then four years ago nobody thought they would see a Simone Biles.”
Her epic Olympic adventure has seen Biles photographed alongside Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt and US swimming greats Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.
But she brushes aside all comparisons.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, I’m the first Simone Biles,” she says.
— ‘Kid has something’ -It has been a long journey for the 1.45m (4ft 9ins) gymnast who moved to Texas from her native Ohio at the age of three, adopted with her little sister Adria by her maternal grandfather Ron Biles and his wife Nellie.
The children had been in foster care as their mother struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.
For Biles it all seems normal.
She calls her grandparents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ and says that when she was small she thought all children were adopted.
She started gymnastic lessons after a daycare field trip to a Houston gym aged six. Her raw talent and ability to do amazing flips soon caught the attention of Boorman.
“When I first saw her, I was like, ‘Wow, this kid has something’. But what it was and how far she could go with it, I had no idea,” Boorman said.
Biles’ talent developed from a bungling novice who could not stay on the beam and struggled with uneven bars because her hands were so small.
Under Boorman, 43, Biles has won more world championships than any other woman in history, taking two gold at her first worlds in 2013.
Four more gold at worlds in Nanning 2014 made her realise it was no fluke.
“When I was young like every kid I always said I wanted to go to the Olympics but I wasn’t really serious about it,” recalls Biles.
“Everything just hit me. I thought maybe I’m good! It’s unreal how it happened,” she said.
She is the first woman to win three straight world all-around titles and first to win ten gold medals at world championships.
Everything has been geared towards her drive to become the greatest gymnast ever. Biles spent all her secondary education being homeschooled.
“I wanted to see how far I could go in this sport. I don’t have any regrets, because of how far I’ve come.”
The task now will be getting back to normal with college on the horizon.
“We’ll make it as normal as possible. It will be crazy. I don’t think anybody is ready for it but Aly and Gabby (Douglas).”
Boorman added: “One thing is sure, she definitely won’t be back in the gym next week, except to sign autographs.”