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Tim Dahlberg: Time to start talking about Simone Biles as best in history

U.S. gymnast Simone Biles waves to the crowd after receiving her gold medal in the all-around competition on Thursday. (Mark Reis / Tribune News Services)
U.S. gymnast Simone Biles waves to the crowd after receiving her gold medal in the all-around competition on Thursday. (Mark Reis / Tribune News Services)
By Tim Dahlberg Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – The first one was for the team. This one was a little more personal.

The next three for Simone Biles could be for the record books.

Where to start judging Biles after her romp to gold in the gymnastics all-around? Perhaps by beginning the conversation with talk about the best in history.

She already owns three world championships, and now has two Olympic golds. Before an appreciative crowd Thursday at the Olympic gymnastics arena, she capped off her latest with a floor exercise that included a move that is named after her.

Three more golds, and her name will start coming up whenever Olympic greats are debated.

“That’s crazy to think about,” Biles said when asked about winning five gold medals. “I just have to stay focused when I go into my event finals.”

No, Biles will never have an overall medal haul that will stack up with Michael Phelps. There are only so many gold medals handed out in her sport and careers in gymnastics are usually limited to one Olympics, perhaps two at best.

On a Wheaties box one day, they find themselves sitting at home watching a new generation of gymnasts on television the next.

But if Biles can win her final three events over the next few days she should emerge as the star of the Rio Olympics. Add another handful of medals four years from now in Tokyo and she will be in rarefied territory.

Some of her fellow competitors believe that’s exactly where the 4-foot-8 dynamo is heading.

“No one goes in thinking they can beat Simone,” teammate Aly Raisman said after winning the all-around silver. “Most people don’t go in thinking they can beat Usain Bolt either, it’s kind of the same thing.”

Bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence about her chances, either.

“I don’t think I will ever be able to do it,” she said.

No female gymnast has won five gold medals in one Olympics, so Biles could make history even before she leaves Rio. She’s favored to win the vault and the balance beam golds and, along with Raisman, a co-favorite in the floor exercise.

It gets a little trickier after that, if only because of unfortunate timing. She was only 15, too young to compete, in the London Olympics, but quickly began dominating world championships once she became competitive age.

Biles will be 23 by the time the 2020 Olympics kick off in Tokyo, but Raisman is showing at the age of 22 that medals can be won in bunches even beyond teenage years.

The way Biles is handling this Olympic gymnastic competition so far, anything seems possible. She soars higher than other gymnasts, does moves others can never attempt.

“She really ranks at the top,” said Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator who helped Nadia Comaneci score a perfect 10 in the 1976 games as a coach in Romania. “I just said the other day for me Nadia Comaneci is our first Olympic champion and Simone is my last Olympic champion. Those are the culminations of our career.”

Full of competitive fire, Biles also seems devoid of nerves once she gets in front of a crowd. She led her teammates to the team gold to kick off her Olympics, then calmly did her thing on the balance beam to take a commanding lead before capping off the night with a strong effort on the floor event.

When it was over she shed a few quick tears and shared some hugs with Raisman, the so-called “grandma” of the team who now has five medals – three of them gold – in two Olympics.

“Every emotion just hit me at once,” Biles said. “It was just kind of a train wreck.”

Watching from close by was Aimee Boorman, who has coached Biles for nearly the gymnast’s whole career.

“I was nervous a little bit for her today just to come out and do it and make it yours,” Boorman said. “She’s certainly proven herself over the past three years that she’s the greatest. Now she can say she’s the greatest of all-time. So far.”

Biles shrugged off the talk, just as she shrugged off a question afterward about whether she was a celebrity (she says she’s not).

“Someone could say I’m the best, but then there’s a whole different side saying I’m not the best,” she said. “I just stay out of it. I just do my gymnastics.”

Left unsaid was that she does it better than anyone has before.

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