Simone Biles Becomes World Championships’ Most Decorated Gymnast

Simone Biles won five gold medals at this week’s world championships.
Simone Biles won five gold medals at this week’s world championships

Simone Biles on Sunday became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history, winning gold medals in the balance beam and the floor exercise to increase her career medal total in the championships to 25.

The record medal count — two more than the previous high, held for more than two decades by Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus — strengthened the case of those who already consider Biles, at 22, to be the greatest gymnast of all time.

“I can’t be more thrilled with the performance that I put out at this world championships,” Biles said. But she seemed surprisingly nonchalant about breaking a career record that had stood for two decades. “I’m not a number person.”

Biles’s gold in the balance beam was her 24th career medal at the world championships. She later won the floor exercise, too.

Biles’s victory in the floor exercise was not a surprise; she had been favoured to win the event and several others. But she jumped out of her seat when she saw her score on the balance beam, which has proved far more challenging for her in recent years. She had to grab the beam to keep her balance in two recent major finals, at the Rio Games and at last year’s worlds, and settled for the bronze each time.

Her milestone extended a ruthless run of efficiency at the world championships this past week in Stuttgart, Germany. On Tuesday, Biles led the American women to their fifth consecutive gold medal in the team competition, becoming the most decorated woman, with 21 career medals. Two days later, she steamrollered her rivals in the all-around event, cruising to a first-place finish by an impressive margin of 2.1 points. On Saturday, she tied Scherbo by claiming the gold in the vault. She won the floor exercise by a full point.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out,” Biles said.

Perhaps most impressive? Of her 25 career medals at worlds, 19 are golds, including the five she won this week.

Before Saturday, Scherbo’s record of 23 had been untouched for 23 years. A native of Minsk, he claimed his medals at six world championship meets, from 1991 to 1996, competing for the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States and then Belarus.

Men’s gymnasts compete in up to eight events at the world championships, while their women’s counterparts compete in only six, a fact that — to her supporters and others — has made Biles’s record-setting medal count all the more impressive.

Biles’s latest accomplishments have emerged against a backdrop of turmoil at U.S.A. Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport in America, which was roiled by the scandal involving Larry G. Nassar, a former team doctor who was accused of molesting hundreds of athletes, including Biles.

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