Stuttgart, Germany | AFP | USA gymnastics queen Simone Biles is set to be the undisputed star of the world championships, enhancing her status as the sport’s greatest athlete — even if she does not feel it.
“I never really feel like I’m a big name,” she told reporters in Stuttgart.
“Everyone puts that on me, I don’t really put it on myself.”
The 10-day event, which started Friday with qualifiers, will be the 22-year-old’s fifth worlds.
She seems destined to add to her record tally of 14 gold medals, but is quick to avoided putting pressure on herself.
“I never go into a competition trying to win –- I just go into a competition trying to compete like I train,” she replied when asked how many golds she expects.
Yet she is the name to watch in Tuesday’s team final, the women’s all-round final on Thursday and the apparatus finals on the final weekend.
Her overall tally of 20 worlds medals ties Biles with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina for the most won by a woman.
Another four in Stuttgart would put her past the all-time record of 23 held by Vitaly Scherbo, a men’s gymnastics star in the 1990s.
Biles is the clear favourite to win all-around world gold for the fifth time, extending her own record, yet she has endured testing times away from the sport in the last two years.
In January 2018, she admitted to being among the victims of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former doctor of the US women’s Olympic team, who was jailed for sexually abusing hundreds of girls and women.
In August, her brother was arrested and charged with a shooting which left three people dead last December.
– Great expectations –
Biles must put all that aside in Stuttgart to seemingly defy gravity as one of the best gymnasts the world has even seen.
She could also leave south-west Germany with four skills named after her.
She is to gymnastics what Usain Bolt is to athletics and Michael Phelps is to swimming, yet while she admires the pair, she rejects the notion of being classed GOAT — greatest of all time — for her own protection.
“I feel like if I were to label myself as a superstar, it would bring more expectations on me,” she says.
“I would feel pressure. Every year I just try to be better than I was the year before.
“I go into a competition trying to compete like I train.”
The 1.42m gymnast has two weapons in her well-stocked arsenal to delight her fans in Stuttgart, where 1,000 paid to watch her train Tuesday.
She plans to compete her two new moves, a triple-twisting double back on floor and double-twisting double tuck dismount off beam.
On the triple double, she explained: “I’ll do at every competition here, because that’s what we’ve been doing in the gym”, but she says she will be more selective as to when she attempts the double double.
Clips of both stunning skills went viral after Biles performed them at August’s US Championships.
The International Gymnastics Federation has said both skills will be named after her if she pulls them off in Stuttgart, which would give her a total of four skills bearing her name.
Biles knows that “titles” come and go, but such honours “stay”.
This could well be her world championships swansong, having said she is “99 percent” sure she will not be at the 2021 event.
After Stuttgart, her focus will turn to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where she will bid to add to her four-medal haul from Rio de Janeiro, where she took the team, all-round, vault and floor exercises titles.