GLASGOW (Reuters) - A heart-stopping wobble on the beam and tumble out of bounds on the floor could not wipe the megawatt smile off Simone Biles’ face as she became the first woman to win three straight all-around titles at the gymnastics world championships on Thursday.
The gymnast, who has been dubbed a ‘robot’ for churning out one flawless display after another, made mistakes on her three strongest apparatus as she also took a giant hop forward from her Amanar vault landing.
But with her routines packed with such high levels of difficulty, the 18-year-old’s flawed performances were still good enough to edge fellow American and Olympic champion Gabby Douglas by 1.083 points.
Biles, who is unbeaten in the event at the worlds since making her debut in 2013, captured gold with a combined total of 60.399.
“Everyone wanted the three-peat and I wanted it, so tonight I felt the pressure and it wasn’t my best meet,” Biles told reporters.
“What surprises me is that it was a bad meet for me and to still come out on top with the largest margin of victory (of my three titles) was really crazy because I could have done so much better.”
Romania finally had something to cheer when Larisa Iordache claimed bronze.
The nation that produced Nadia Comaneci and won five straight team titles from 1994 to 2001 failed to make the eight-team final for the first time since 1966 after bombing out of qualifying last Friday.
Romania now face an anxious wait until April’s test event in Rio to see if they can book a ticket to the Olympic Games.
“Today I tried to get redemption for my team mates,” said Iordache, a silver medallist last year. “I feel much better than I did on Friday but I want much more.”
For Biles though, Thursday’s triumph earned her an eighth gold medal at the worlds and she will go to Rio next year as the overwhelming favourite to cap her unbeaten global run with the Olympic title.
A showdown billed as the “battle of the all-around champions” -- with the reigning world and Olympic title holders facing off in an international competition for the first time since 1980 -- produced plenty of drama but not in the way Biles would have hoped.
Three glaring errors on the world stage was three too many for Biles.
While she shrugged off the hop from the vault -- having scored 15.833 points -- she drew a collective 5,500 gasps as she almost toppled off the balance beam after a forward flip.
Grabbing the four-inch wide beam with both hands, she pulled off what coach Aimee Boorman described as “the save of the century”.
“When I nearly toppled, I nearly gave myself a heart attack,” said Biles, whose effort drew 14.400 from the judges.
The floor exercise is where Biles knows she can usually wipe out the opposition but the 4-foot-9 dynamo committed an error totally out of character when she put one foot on the red boundary outside the beige competition area.
“I never knew I could land on red. And when I landed on red, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I‘m not supposed to be on this,” said Biles, who began her final routine knowing that she needed to eclipse 14.183 points to beat Douglas.
A score of 15.266 meant she need not have worried.
Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford