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NPR US News

Simone Biles Becomes Winningest Gymnast In History

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's examine the case for Simon Biles as greatest of all time. She won her seventh U.S. gymnastics title over the weekend. That is a record. Joining me now is sports writer Liz Clarke from The Washington Post.

Hey there.

LIZ CLARKE: Hi there.

KELLY: So for people keeping track, I want to note Simon Biles has won every all-around competition she has entered since 2013. For eight years, she has not lost. I'm trying to think of any other athlete in any sport with a winning streak that would compare to that.

CLARKE: Well, I'm coming up blank as well. But I think what makes - among the many things that makes Simone exceptional is that this is women's gymnastics we're talking about, where the degree of difficulty is so great and the age at which athletes excel in women's gymnastics is so brief. It's just so ephemeral. So it's very rare to see a world-class gymnastics make two Olympic cycles. If you are able to reclaim the form you had in your first Olympics four years later, you're pretty amazing. You're an outlier.

But what we will see in Tokyo is Simone beating Simone of 2016. She is coming with far more difficult elements and doing them better than ever. So she is - she was in her own realm, and she's ignoring the rest of the world. And she's improving on Simone at this point.

KELLY: You noted that age is a challenge, that being at the top for so long is a challenge in any sport. Simone Biles is 24, which is...

CLARKE: Yes.

KELLY: That is a really long career by gymnastics standards. Has she talked about that, how she has managed to get through this with no career-threatening injuries for so long?

CLARKE: Well, I mean, a little bit. But what we know is that she has very involved, loving parents. Simone is very smart, and she has been guided by outstanding coaches who put her first. So she's taken breaks from the sport as appropriate. I had the great privilege of spending a training day with Simone at her gym in Texas along with her coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi. And what you come away with is just the sense she's an incredibly happy young woman. I mean, obviously, she's a driven athlete in ways that exceed anything you and I would consider driven. But she laughs easily. She loves to tell stories, act out little anecdotes with her friends. So her training day is not just misery and drudgery. There's great joy there in her actions with her fellow gymnasts and her coaches, and she loves what she does.

KELLY: Can we talk about the leotard, the GOAT leotard?

CLARKE: Yes, yes.

KELLY: GOAT being, like, greatest of all time. But also she's been wearing a leotard that has an actual goat on it, which speaks to the sense of humor I think you're nodding to there.

CLARKE: Absolutely. And this sense of humor is double because she moves the goat around. It'll be on different parts of her leotard. And it's the kind of thing that - we're used to male athletes proclaiming themselves the GOAT. You don't see it enough, in my view, in female champions, female athletes. So Simone is coming with her goat, and, boy, can she back it up. I mean, I fervently believe she's the greatest gymnast of all time. And I would love little more than to sit at a bar with any sports fan and make the case that she's the greatest athlete of all time.

KELLY: Liz Clarke - she covers sports at The Washington Post - talking to us about the gymnast Simone Biles.

Thank you.

CLARKE: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "SECOND WIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.