ANTWERP, Belgium – All of 16 years old and given to giggles, Simone Biles showed she is ready to carry the weight of a nation.
She anchored the strongest U.S. team performance in world championship history on Sunday, and it didn’t take long for U.S. women’s team coach Martha Karolyi to put this in perspective.
“We are ready to go for Rio,” Karolyi said.
After a dozen medals and a long week of domination, the Americans are clearly in a position of strength for the 2016 Olympics.
And Biles, a newcomer to the team, is much the reason. First, she won the all-around Friday and then she added the floor event Sunday. She finished with four medals overall.
“All the hard work has paid off,” she said. “It is so exciting to be part of that. I cannot ask for anything more.”
The U.S. team ended with 12 medals, exceeding its previous high of nine at the 2005 Melbourne championships. The Americans had almost double those of their nearest challenger, Japan, with seven.
Perhaps most amazing, Biles may actually have surpassed Kohei Uchimura as the most successful gymnast of these championships. If the Japanese great proved to many that he is the greatest gymnast ever by winning a record fourth all-around world title, he came just short against Biles this week.
Both won two golds and four medals overall, but Biles had a silver and a bronze to add compared to the two bronzes for Uchimura, who won his first parallel bars gold Sunday.
Yet, as a nation, no one was a match for the United States, which came to Antwerp without the defending and Olympics women’s all-around champions and with a lot of question marks.
Next to Biles, Kyla Ross was almost a strong, getting three silvers over the week and proving she had blossomed from last year’s Olympic team gold medalist into a strong individual performer whose grace and elegance is a counterpoint to Biles’ power and jumping.
For the U.S. team, even the men started contributing again. They had only one gold in 2011, the last world championships. In London last year, they brought back a mere bronze.
This time, four different men added two silvers and two bronzes, showing some strength in depth.
“We are doing awesome,” John Orozco said after finishing third behind joint gold medalists Uchimura and China’s Lin Chaopan on the parallel bars.
The performance of the day came from Olympic high bar champion Epke Zonderland. The Dutchman set the Sports Palace alight with a routine full of gravity-defying leaps to win the last event of the championships.
Aliya Mustafina won Russia’s first gold medal of the championships, edging Ross on the balance beam. Mustafina, the 2010 all-around champion, was nearly flawless as she twirled, twisted and jumped at will on the narrow beam, and then watched Ross and Biles fall short of overtaking her. It was Ross’ third silver of the championships.
In the men’s vault, South Korea’s Yang Hak-seon dominated again. The defending and Olympic champion brought a difficult new vault to Antwerp and performed it well enough to slip past American rival Steve Legendre. Kristian Thomas of Britain was the bronze medalist.