By Marian Baker, Opinions Editor
This year’s Rio Olympics brought many athletes, both old and new, into the public spotlight. However, the one that truly stole the show this Olympic cycle was none other than elite gymnast Simone Biles.
Biles, 19, of Columbus, Ohio, is old news to the world of artistic gymnastics, having won the all-around in the past three world championships. To the national public spotlight, however, she is relatively new. The Rio Olympics are her first, as she was too young to qualify in 2012.
There is no way to characterize Biles’ breakout Olympic performance as anything but dominant. Biles won five total medals in the 2016 Games, including individual golds for vault, floor exercise and the all-around, one bronze for the beam and one team gold for the all-around as part of the U.S. women’s team dubbed the “Final Five.”
Watching Biles compete is nothing short of spectacular, as the diminutive 4 feet 8 inches athlete jumps, twists, turns, and tumbles with explosive power that seems to come from someplace else. Her signature move on the floor, nicknamed “The Biles,” is a seemingly impossible double layout with a half turn, which in layman’s terms means that she does a double flip into the air in a fully outstretched position, at one point reaching a height twice her size. No other gymnast currently uses this move in competition, owing to its extreme difficulty. Biles, however, performs it seemingly effortlessly each time.
Biles is turning the world of gymnastics upside down in other ways as well, breaking the mold of the stony-faced gymnast who bites her lip before pulling out tumbling passes that look excruciating. Biles actually makes gymnastics look like fun.
But her gymnastic performances are not the only amazing thing about Simone Biles. Biles was adopted at the age of 6 by her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, since Simone’s birth mother, Shanon, was unable to care for her children due to alcohol and drug addiction.
During the Olympics, when a new anchor refused to refer to her parents as her parents, saying that they were only her grandparents, Biles spoke for many adoptees when she replied, “My parents are my parents and that’s it.”
In addition to representing adoptees, Biles was one of a number of female minority athletes showcasing their amazing abilities at the Olympics. Of the “Final Five,” three women were minorities, the most diverse gymnastic team the U.S. has ever had. U.S. Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad also became the first American athlete to wear a hijab at the Olympics, and black swimmer Simone Manuel won four medals.
Biles also spoke for many female athletes when she refused to be compared to similarly dominant male athletes. “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles,” she told reporters.
Biles represents the epitome of the American Dream. She rose from a disadvantaged background to the pinnacle of athletics, even earning the unofficial title of “greatest gymnast of all time” by any and all metrics. She has flirted with Zac Efron via Twitter, and was chosen to carry the flag in the closing ceremonies.
Biles is the hero that America needs. She is a woman that has broken down barriers her entire life, and is the perfect role model for American girls — and boys — who wonder if they too can succeed. Biles is a true representative of what America is supposed to stand for: opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, creed, immigration status (her mother is an immigrant, and her coach Marta Karolyi was an illegal immigrant), or family background. Truly, she is making America great.