RIO DE JANEIRO – For Aly Raisman, the Olympic silver medal might as well have been gold. The top of the podium in the women’s all-around competition wasn’t in play Thursday, she said, and it hadn’t been for two years.
Raisman knew no one had a chance to top teammate Simone Biles, the 4-9 dynamo from Texas who made the glamour event of the Rio Games feel like a foregone conclusion. As expected, Biles brought down the house at Rio Olympic Arena, becoming the fourth American in a row to win the women’s gymnastics all-around title. Trailing Russia’s Aliya Mustafina by a thread after two events, Biles ended with a gravity-defying turn on floor exercise to beat Raisman by 2.1 points.
The 19-year-old Biles put on another otherworldly display. Doing the most difficult routines of anyone in her sport, she exuded joy in every twist and flip, riding her high-flying tricks to a score of 62.198 points. Raisman rose from fourth place after two events to earn silver with 60.098, and Mustafina took bronze with 58.665.
Lest anyone think she was not human, she put that idea to rest. Biles’ nearly constant smile gave way to tears when she came off the mat and into the embrace of Raisman and coach Aimee Boorman. She blinked back more tears as she listened to “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the top step of the podium.
“When Aly and my coach told me I had done it, there were so many emotions,” Biles said. “I couldn’t stop them.
“Everything hit me at once. I finally did it. It’s unreal.”
Raisman also let the tears flow after a stellar floor routine that erased her disappointment of four years ago. At the 2012 London Olympics, she tied Mustafina for the third-best score but lost the bronze medal on a tiebreaker.
She sat fourth after the vault and the uneven bars Thursday, then finished with nearly perfect routines on balance beam and floor exercise. After her final tumbling pass, she burst into tears and put her hands to her face in disbelief. Biles and Raisman finished first and second on vault, beam and floor.
“I was looking at [coach Mihai Brestyan] throughout the routine, and he was jumping up and down,” Raisman said. “It was just very emotional.
“Me and Simone were like, ‘Today’s going to be our day. We’re going to do it.’ [The silver] was the best I could possibly do, so I’m very proud. To go 1-2 with Simone, it’s very, very special.”
For the past two years, Raisman said, everyone in elite gymnastics knew Biles was destined to win the Olympic all-around title. At the past three world championships, she piled up 14 medals, including three all-around crowns. Her 14 medals are the most of any U.S. gymnast at the world championships, and her 10 golds are the most of any woman in history.
Even Mustafina said she knew she had no shot at gold, or even silver. She made it interesting, at least for a while. Biles and Raisman started the night with a pair of solid Amanar vaults, putting them in first and second place, but lost ground when they moved to uneven bars.
Mustafina, the world champion in that event, scored a 15.666 to take the overall lead by .034 of a point. Biles stood second, and Raisman fell back to fourth.
But Mustafina struggled on beam, teetering twice and taking a step on her dismount. Biles passed her by completing a more challenging routine with only one wobble, and Raisman nailed her performance to climb to third. They delivered the knockout punch with a pair of floor routines that delighted Martha Karolyi, the U.S. women’s team coordinator who is retiring after the Olympics.
“Five or six years ago, when I saw [Biles] for the first time, I knew she had this talent,” Karolyi said. “But she was a little bit out of control. She was very, very bouncy and not focused. But she responded fantastically. She made a very big statement [Thursday].”
Afterward, Biles was asked if she was the greatest gymnast of all time. She seemed embarrassed by the idea and said no. The question was posed twice more, in slightly different ways, and she deflected it twice more.
Biles left that determination to others, who were more than happy to hand her the title.
“Everyone was talking about her, and everyone expected her to win gold,” Raisman said. “It’s not easy to do that when you’re on every single magazine cover and in every single article. She handled the pressure so well. I don’t know how she does it. But it’s amazing.”