LONDON (Reuters) - With a catchy nickname, a megawatt smile and a rapidly growing medal collection, Simone Biles already bears all the hallmarks of a champion athlete.
Over the next week the 18-year-old gymnast, who has been nicknamed ‘$imoney’, will be the overwhelming favorite to complete a feat at the world championships that no woman has ever achieved — winning a third all-around title in a row.
Not bad for a competitor who grew up wanting to be a ‘mini-me’ of Alicia Sacramone — a gymnast who rather unfortunately tends to be remembered for costing the United States a team gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after making mistakes on the floor and balance beam.
“My favorite was Alicia Sacramone because I wasn’t good on (asymmetrical) bars and she never did bars,” Biles told Reuters in an interview as she completed her final preparations for the Oct. 23-Nov. 1 world championships at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena.
“When I was growing up I was like, ‘Since I can’t do bars and I’m bad at it, I’m just going to do what Alicia does’.
“So I thought I was going to be exactly like her and be specialist on three events.”
However, thanks to the encouragement of her lifelong coach, Aimee Boorman, Biles overcame her mental block on the bars to become such a force in the sport that her rivals now think she is “wired like a robot”.
That precision was clear for all to see in Antwerp and Nanning over the past two years as she flew through the air faster and higher than her rivals on all four apparatus, completing her acrobatic tumbles with solid landings.
Too young to compete at the 2012 Olympics, she was just one of millions of American TV viewers who were glued to their TV screens as her now team mate, Gabby Douglas, struck gold in London.
As she followed Douglas’ every move on a big screen at her Texan gym, did Biles wish there had been no age restrictions in gymnastics so that she could have competed at the last Olympics?
“No, not at all. I was a complete mess at that age,” said Biles, who was adopted by her grandparents 15 years ago after her mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
“I didn’t have any discipline, so I’m glad I was not old enough (to compete in London). It turned out for the better.”
Her date of birth meant she became a senior at the start of an Olympic cycle, meaning if she wanted to have a shot at Olympics glory, she would have to sustain her levels of excellence for a full four years — a stretch that is beyond most elite gymnasts.
“One of things we faced with her becoming a senior just after the 2012 Olympics was that nobody has ever sustained (being on top) that long. You can’t come out on top in your first year and expect to stay on top,” explained Boorman.
“So it’s been a balancing act of keeping her healthy and making sure she has fun.”
The fun factor she enjoys in training has also ensured Biles does not suffer a fate many Olympic-bound champions fear — that of “peaking too soon”.
“That’s just a stat that’s been placed into everybody’s head that you can peak too soon. We have a peaking pace and I think my pace is just fine. I don’t think I have peaked yet,” said Biles, who has amassed nine medals, including six golds in just two world championships.
“We’re all glad that we have a little bit of time to get ready (for next year’s Rio Games).
“Are we anxious? Sometimes the thinking time … like we’d wish it would come and go so it’s over so we don’t have to think about it any more.
“But we’re all glad for the time we have to wait it out and embrace the moments we have left before it all hits us and happens.”
Editing by Neville Dalton