Sub­lime Biles has ex­ceeded Co­maneci as great­est

Amer­i­can’s feats are as­ton­ish­ing, writes Si­mon Briggs, but she will never be re­warded with the ‘Perfect 10’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

atch­ing Simone Biles per­form at this week’s World Cham­pi­onships, a quote from the es­say­ist Si­mon Barnes sprang to mind. “All sports with­out a ball are about fly­ing.” Be­cause Biles has come closer than any other hu­man to mas­ter­ing grav­ity.

To say that she is the planet’s best gym­nast is like say­ing that Steve Smith en­joys bat­ting against Eng­land. And her 22 world medals – which could be­come 26 by the end of the week­end – are only the be­gin­ning. Like cer­tain other deities of our time – think Roger Fed­erer or Usain Bolt – Biles com­bines im­pos­si­ble feats with a sense of ef­fort­less­ness.

When she leapt 10 feet in the air on her sig­na­ture move – the Biles – at the Rio Olympics, I saw hard­ened hacks burst into as­ton­ished laugh­ter in the media seats, for­get­ting for a sec­ond that we were all on dead­line.

Three years later, that “dou­ble-lay­out” ma­noeu­vre has now been eclipsed by the Biles II – the muchtalked about “triple dou­ble”, in which she flies even higher and turns even faster.

Her ca­reer feels like a cin­e­matic su­per­hero fran­chise, in which the main char­ac­ter’s pow­ers mul­ti­ply each episode. And yet there are no spe­cial ef­fects in­volved. Just a 4ft 8in, seven-anda-half-stone woman with dy­na­mite in her quads and a mind-bend­ing work ethic.

In Thurs­day’s all-around fi­nal, Biles romped home by a record 2.1 marks, de­spite turn­ing in a per­for­mance that she rated as only a seven out of 10 – which raises the ques­tion of whether we are talk­ing about Biles enough.

She is far more than just an­other once-in-adecade ath­lete. Once in a cen­tury, more like.

For all gymnastics’ vi­brancy – and it is one of the UK’S few grow­ing sports – you some­times won­der if there is any room in the pub­lic mind for a new queen of the air. It is as if Na­dia Co­maneci oc­cu­pied that space at the 1976 Olympics and noth­ing can dis­lodge her. Biles is clearly a greater gym­nast – hell, she is the great­est ever – but she will never have a mo­ment quite as res­o­nant as that first “Perfect 10”. Co­maneci’s en­dur­ing global fame – and ubiq­uity as a pub-quiz ques­tion – owes much to the sim­plic­ity of the old scor­ing sys­tem. As Dvora Mey­ers ex­plains in her book The End of the Perfect 10, there are still plenty of in­sid­ers who want it re­in­stated be­cause of its grab fac­tor.

There is a rea­son why the judges on Strictly Come Danc­ing do not start off by giv­ing each rou­tine a dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum based on its com­plex­ity – as has hap­pened in gymnastics since 2006 – and then chip­ping a piece off for each tiny in­fe­lic­ity. It is just too chewy. Any sport that re­lies on a 209-page hand­book, spell­ing out the dif­fi­culty of each move from A to J (it used to be A to G, un­til Biles pushed the en­ve­lope) will strug­gle to match the ele­men­tal ap­peal of kick­ing a ball into a net.

And yet, de­spite its flaws, the new sys­tem copes bril­liantly with the in­fla­tion of ath­letic en­deav­our. When 10s be­come com­mon­place – there were 40 handed out at the Seoul Olympics of 1988, for in­stance – the ar­rival of a new trail­blazer re­quires ev­ery­body else’s scores to be dragged back. Whereas Biles’s supremacy was eas­ily ac­com­mo­dated by giv­ing her a higher start value than ev­ery­one else.

Some­times you have to choose be­tween crowd­pleas­ing sim­plic­ity and a sub­tler, less mar­ketable so­lu­tion. Co­maneci will al­ways em­body the “Perfect 10”, just as Roger Ban­nis­ter did the four-minute mile. Yet it is Biles who will go down as the best we have ever seen.

She is far more than a once-ina-decade ath­lete. Once in a cen­tury, more like

Supreme tal­ent: Simone Biles makes the ex­tremely dif­fi­cult look ef­fort­less

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