simone biles is the most decorated american gymnast in history and probably the most dominant active athlete in the world. Last October, she won her fifth overall title at the world championships, part of a five-medal blitz that raised her career worlds gold medal total to 19, more than double the total of any other female gymnast in the history. This summer, she was ready to continue that run at the Tokyo Olympics…until the coronavirus changed the entire landscape of sports.
With the Olympics now postponed until 2021, Biles continues to train but has not officially committed to competing, citing the mental strain of focusing on peak performance for another 15 months, coupled with his ongoing frustrations with the way he uses Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, addressed the abuse she and many other athletes suffered at the hands of former team doctor Larry Nassar.
bile would be the favorite to win many gold medals no matter when the olympics were held; he hasn’t lost a full competition he’s entered since 2013, but he too will turn 24 next summer, which is pretty much an age for a gymnast. due to her age, and the schedule of olympics during her career, we may only see bile compete in one summer game.
“The physical part is not going to be the problem,” Biles said of his challenges heading into 2021. And if any athlete was going to challenge father time, it might be the one who keeps getting more dominant. But according to data provided by Olympedia.org, only three artistic gymnasts over the age of 22 have won any form of Olympic gold since 1972: Elvira Saadi (age 24) and Lyudmila Turishcheva (23) on the all-team in 1976, and Sanne Wevers. (24) on the balance beam in 2016. The oldest to win individual all-around gold in that time period was Simona Amânar in 2000, just weeks shy of her 21st birthday.
So Biles, at 23, was already trying to push the limits of the gymnasts aging curve this summer, let alone next summer. To further illustrate this, here is a distribution of Olympic gold medals by age for all female artistic gymnasts since 1952 (when medals were first awarded for the sport’s separate events), including team and individual events:
Of all the Olympic gold medals won by the artistic gymnasts in our sample, 81% were awarded before the athletes reached the age of 24. Once again, Biles is already a groundbreaking athlete, so maybe that won’t matter next summer. But she is at the stage of her career where every additional year of aging matters, in a sport that disproportionately favors the youngest, where even multiple-time gold winners with remarkable longevity end up with the Olympics in their 20s. (as Gabby Douglas) or 22 (as Aly Raisman).
In her only Olympic appearance to date, Biles won four gold medals, already putting her in the conversation of the greatest Olympians of all time. But even before the disaster struck in 2020, she had had some bad luck in terms of how the Summer Olympic cycle coincided with the years of her life. Ella Biles turned 15 in 2012, which makes her ineligible for the US. uu. senior team and the Olympics that year. Biles debuted as a senior the following March and won her first all-around gold at the world championships later that year, so she likely would have done the same thing at the 2012 Olympics had her 16-year-old season fallen just a bit. year before. . And while Ella Biles took off all of 2017 after her stellar performance at the 2016 Olympics, her subsequent performances make it easy to imagine that she would still have dominated the 2016 Games if they had fallen on her season. 20 years old. if all that were true, then bile could be looking towards her third Olympiad now instead of her second, with at least a few additional gold medals to her name.
bile would have actually been eligible for the 2012 games in an earlier era. until 1981, gymnasts could be as young as 14; From 1981 to 1996, a gymnast simply had to turn 15 in the year of the Olympics to be eligible for the senior national team. (The rule was changed after the 1996 Olympics so that athletes must turn 16 in an Olympic year.) That’s how 1990s icons Shannon Miller and Kerri Strug were able to start their Olympic careers in their 15-year-old seasons, while Biles was just competing (and winning golds) in junior events at that age.
Regardless of when Biles got her Olympic start, the truth is that an elite career in women’s gymnastics is incredibly short. even the most successful Olympians tend to compete in no more than two Games, with very few exceptions. but the timing of the cycles, and now the delay of the 2020 games, could hit the bile harder than most. if she decides to compete next summer, it will be at an age when hardly any recent gymnasts have won gold medals, well past the normal age of her peers. And if Bile doesn’t compete, then one of the most dominant and decorated athletes to ever compete in an Olympic sport will have somehow participated in only one Olympic game during her storied career.