article by Juliet Macur via nytimes.com
ST. LOUIS — At the end of the United States women’s gymnastics championships here on Sunday night, so many gold medals hung around Simone Biles’s neck that when she walked, they clinked so loudly it made her giggle. A few times, she grabbed her medals to silence them and laughed yet again.
“I always have so much fun,” Biles said later, after she had won her fourth straight national title in the all-around event and gold medals in three of the four individual events. The last time a woman had won a fourth consecutive national title in the all-around was 42 years ago.
“People think you have to be serious to do a good job,” she said. “But I think if you’re having fun, you can do better. You can look back someday and say, wow, I had a good time instead of being so stressed out.”
That’s easier said than done in elite gymnastics, a sport that can be a dangerous endeavor. One slip could break bones or tear ligaments, or possibly something worse. But this happy-go-lucky attitude in a grueling, often solemn sport works for Biles, the three-time defending world champion in the all-around. And it makes perfect sense that it works.
After all, it’s fun to compete when you win and win and when the word around the sport is that you’re the best gymnast ever. Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic gold medalist in the all-around in 1984, has called Biles the top gymnast in history. Nastia Liukin, the Olympic gold medalist in 2008, has said that Biles is a lock for the gold medal at the Rio Games in August and that the real competition is for second place.
During the two-day national championships here, which were a warm-up for next month’s Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., Martha Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator, watched Biles’s routines closely — often with eyes opened extra wide.
After several of Biles’s big performances — and nearly all of them were big performances — Karolyi said, “Wow!” It was a substantial reaction from a woman who is the opposite of effusive: She gave two slow claps to Gabrielle Douglas’s floor exercise on Sunday, and Douglas is the reigning Olympic champion in the all-around.