October 05, 2023

By Samuel Petrequin

Associated Press


Simone Biles and her teammates were far from perfect, and yet nothing could stand in the way of a victory that set a record for both the U.S. women’s team and the greatest gymnast in history.

The U.S. women earned a record seventh consecutive team title at the gymnastics world championships on Wednesday night. For Biles, it was also her 33rd major championship medal — across the worlds and Olympics — to make her the most decorated female gymnast ever.

And it’s fitting that it came in Antwerp, the Belgian port city where Biles came to international prominence 10 years ago by winning her first world title in 2013.

“It wasn’t Team USA’s best day,” Biles said.

“It’s crazy, we still pulled it out. So, I’m really, really proud of the team.”

The American team of Biles, Shilese Jones, Skye Blakely, Joscelyn Roberson and Leanne Wong combined for a total of 167.729 points to edge second-place Brazil and France.

The U.S. team won by a margin of 2.199 points as the final proved to be a closer contest than anticipated after the Americans put up a dominant performance in qualifying to finish more than five points ahead of the field.

“We had some mistakes here and there, but just keep going, keep relying on our training,” Biles said. “But I think this team that we have brought this year has the most great courage and fight. ... We had so many emotions going throughout the day.”

The U.S. women have won gold in the team event at every world championship that included a team competition since 2011. Their victory in Antwerp broke a tie with the Chinese men for the longest streak of consecutive team titles.

Biles now has 26 world championship medals, 20 of them gold, to go with her seven Olympic medals, including the 2016 Olympic title. Her 33 combined medals at the sport’s two biggest events are one more than what Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union achieved.

Russia was banned from the event because of sanctions imposed by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) as a result of the war against Ukraine. In the absence of their Russian rivals — the defending Olympic champions — the Americans were the overwhelming favorites.

But the U.S team overcame an early scare as Roberson was forced out of the event even before it started after she seemed to hurt an ankle while warming up at the vault. She was helped off the mat and subbed by Wong.

“My ankle just ... popped,” Roberson said.

Jones then kicked off the competition smoothly for the Americans with a Double Twist Yurchenko, with only a small hop. Wong responded to the last-minute call with a clean effort before Biles opted for the slightly safer “Cheng” vault rather than the Yurchenko Double Pike she performed during qualifying on Sunday.

The Americans amassed 42.966 points and were second behind China after the first rotation following the Chinese gymnasts’ excellent display on uneven bars.

Biles and her teammates then bested their Chinese opponents’ performance on bars as they took the overall lead with a margin of 1.467 points. They increased it a bit further after the beam — despite a sixth-place finish on that apparatus — as Biles made up for the modest 11.700 Wong received by scoring 14.300 with a solid routine.

Biles capped off a successful night for the U.S team with a spectacular floor routine rewarded by a 15.166.

Biles is competing at her first international competition following a two-year absence. Her previous appearance was at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, where she was hampered by a bout with a mental block known as “the twisties” that gymnasts can experience while in the air, and withdrew from several events.

Now she’s back in the same city that catapulted her to international fame a decade ago, winning the first of her five world all-around titles as a 16-year-old prodigy.

“Each and every time you are crowned world champion, it feels a little bit different,” Biles said. “I’m still surprised that I’m still going, I’m 26, I’m a little bit older. It’s different, but it’s exciting.”

Biles, who posted an overall score of 58.732 points, is also the favorite to add a sixth all-around title on Friday, although she will likely face a strong challenge from Brazilian Rebeca Andrade, the reigning world all-around champion. The event finals are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Andrade led Brazil to its first medal ever in the women’s team competition. The French team, spurred on by the hundreds of fans cheering for them, secured their first women’s team medal at the world championships since a silver in 1950.

Category: Sports