By Pritha Sarkar
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – As Simone Biles stood locked in a tight embrace with her team mate Aly Raisman, waiting for her final score to come up on the big screen, the concerned look in her eyes suggested she had no idea who would be crowned Olympic all around champion.
The American, however, was the only one still in the dark in the brightly lit Rio Olympic Arena on Thursday as the hollering cheers and standing ovation that greeted her final tumbling pass on the floor exercise confirmed what everyone knew long before the judges’ verdict came up — Biles was the new champion.
When a stupendous score of 15.933 confirmed she had beaten Raisman by 2.100 points with a total of 62.198, the coronation that had been in the planning stages ever since she won the first of a record three successive world titles in 2013 could finally take place.
Then the woman who had remained stoic throughout the previous two hours as she showcased her jaw-dropping skills across four apparatus, finally let her guard down and burst into tears.
As the realization hit home that she finally owned the biggest individual prize in the sport, the crowd saluted a gymnast who had just become the first woman in 20 years to win the Olympic all-around title as the reigning world champion.
“Every emotion hit me at once so I was just kind of a train wreck,” Biles said after scooping a second gold in Rio following her success in the team final on Tuesday.
“Everything was going through my head but mainly it was like I had finally done it and when that hits you, you can’t really stop the emotions.”
For Raisman, claiming silver with a total of 60.098 meant redemption after she suffered a gut-wrenching disappointment to miss out on the bronze four years ago to Russia’s Aliya Mustafina on the tiebreak rule.
This time, the American was all smiles as she stood one step higher than Mustafina on the podium.
“After the tiebreak of 2012 it was very heartbreakingand now coming back and finally having that redemption after four years of working so hard and five times of trying in the all around final at world championships and the Olympics, it’s really special to finally be on the podium,” she said.
But she was under no illusion which medal she had been aiming for.
“No one goes in thinking they can beat Simone. People don’t go in thinking they can beat Usain Bolt either. It’s kind of the same thing.”
As far as Biles was concerned, she is incomparable.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Many reigning world champions before Biles have tried to conquer the Olympics, only to crumble under the weight of expectation — thus becoming victims of what in gymnastics circles is known as the “curse of the world champion”.
But rather than being crushed by the hype, Biles is such a free spirit that she simply soared higher and higher on Thursday with a dazzling floor performance that will live long in the memory of those lucky enough to be in the Rio Olympic Arena.
Biles earned 15.866 on the vault, 14.966 on the asymmetric bars and 15.433 on the balance beam.
On the floor, her explosive tumbling passes — which included her trademark soaring double layout with half twist at the end — had the Brazilian crowd on their feet as her sassy moves were choreographed to hip-swinging Samba beats.
Biles’ triumph made her the fourth successive American to win the title — following the successes of Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin and Gabby Douglas — which is the longest winning streak by a country in the Olympic discipline.
Biles and Raisman completed a one-two finish for the second time for the U.S. after Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson won gold and silver respectively in 2008.
It was also the first time since 1992 that both the men’s and women’s all around champions were members of the gold medal team at the same Olympics.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer,; Drazen Jorgic and Mary Milliken; Editing by Toby Davis and Mary Milliken)