As impressive as her consistent dominance is, what Biles has come to mean to Black culture, to women, and especially to Black women is bigger than her all-out assault on the record books. Her excellence is an act of resistance. She is openly mocking expectations about what she should or shouldn’t do. Through her performances, she is creating a previously inconceivable new standard for her sport.
For this year’s U.S. championship, Biles wore leotards that featured a sequined goat. She has used the animal as her symbol since 2019 because she is the GOAT—as in “greatest of all time.” This, among other things, is what makes Biles special. She embraces that she is so extraordinary, that there is no one in the world like her, nor has there ever been. “It’s important to teach our female youth that it’s OK to say, ‘Yes, I am good at this,’ and you don’t hold back,” Biles told USA Today in 2019. “You only see the men doing it. And they’re praised for it, and the women are looked down upon for it. But I feel like it’s good (to do) because once you realize you’re confident and good at it, then you’re even better at what you do.”
At the Olympic gymnastic trials later this month, Biles is almost certain to qualify for the U.S. team. As the Tokyo Games draw closer, the question isn’t who will beat Biles, but whether she will be able to exceed her phenomenal 2016 Olympic performance in Rio de Janeiro, where she won four gold medals and a bronze.
The other question heading into Tokyo is whether Biles will again reset the standard when it comes to degree of difficulty. Even though Biles is the biggest star in gymnastics, the people who run the sport have stunted her brilliance on occasion simply because she is forcing them to rethink what’s possible. Their lack of imagination has become Biles’s problem.
Last month at the U.S. Classic in Indianapolis, Biles successfully completed the Yurchenko double pike on the vault, becoming the first woman in history to attempt this move in a competition. In February, Biles posted a video on Twitter of her doing the move in practice. The clip has been viewed more than 2.5 million times. Even then, skeptics asked whether the double pike was too dangerous. But anyone who has followed Biles’s career knows that limits aren’t really her thing.
The only other American to successfully execute the Yurchenko double pike in competition is David Sender, who was the U.S.’s all-around champion in 2008. After seeing Biles’s performance in Indianapolis, Sender told NBC Sports, “My first impression was, wow, I think that was better than when I did it.” The videos that circulated of her vaults—from training and warm-up sessions and from the competition itself—were such breathtaking displays of her talent that they damn near broke the internet. James and former first lady Michelle Obama were among those left stunned by what they saw in the clips: Biles does a round-off onto the springboard, follows it with a back handspring onto the vault, and then finishes with two backflips.