By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Shannon Miller thinks her time as the United States’ most decorated Olympic gymnast will come to an end this summer and the 42-year-old will be in Tokyo cheering on Simone Biles as she bids to supplant her.
Biles bagged five medals, including four gold, in her dazzling Olympic debut at Rio four years ago and the 22-year-old is widely expected to surpass Miller’s haul of seven at Tokyo later this year.
“I’m excited about it,” Miller, who was in India as an ambassador for Sunday’s Tata Mumbai Marathon, told Reuters in an interview.
“For me and for so many athletes, we feel that records are made to be broken. It’s how sport thrives, it’s how it evolves, and it’s how it progresses.
“It’s important for athletes to be inspired to do more and be more each and every year along the way. I’ll be among the fans cheering her on.”
An explosive combination of power, agility and creativity, Biles has already vaulted into the debate as the greatest gymnast of all time.
Miller, who won five medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and two at Atlanta four years later, said she was amazed at how Biles, the most decorated gymnast in world championship history, continues to dominate the sport.
“What strikes me is really the incredible amount of difficulty that she has in her skills combined with the consistency with which she competes those skills. That’s fairly rare,” she added.
“A lot of times you have difficult skills but you are not as consistent, or you’re very consistent but you don’t have as much difficulty. She has the combination of both.”
USA Gymnastics is still recovering from a scandal that saw former team doctor Larry Nassar sentenced to up to 300 years in prison in 2018 after more than 300 women, including Biles, accused him of sexual abuse.
Miller does not think the scandal would hinder the gymnasts’ performance in Tokyo.
“I think the athletes that are competing are focused on their gymnastics and their competition,” she said. “We want to celebrate their hard work and all that they’re doing, especially leading into and at the Olympic Games.”
Teams in Tokyo will comprise four gymnasts, down from five in London 2012, which is likely to discourage teams from picking specialists who could be required in other events in case a team mate gets injured.
Smaller team sizes should not be a headache for the United States women’s squad, who are eyeing a hat-trick of Olympic golds at Tokyo, said Miller.
“There are pros and cons but what we as athletes do is we find out the rules and then we focus on what our best strategy is to not only make the team but then how best to create a makeup of the team,” she said.
“So, you kind of control what you can control and then you go out and do the very best you can.
“You never want to have an athlete get injured but it happens. So you want to make sure that you have enough people on the team that can compete all four events.”
(This story has been refiled to add dropped word in first paragraph)
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)