Any questions or doubts about who is the greatest gymnast of all time were arguably put to rest in October when Simone Biles earned her record-setting 25th world medal and 19th world gold medal — the most for any gymnast, woman or man — during the 2019 World Championships in Germany.
If that feat wasn’t enough, Biles during the championships executed two never-before-completed skills on the balance beam and floor exercise, respectively, adding to the growing list of now four original gymnastics moves named after her.
Next summer, she will look to build on her G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) status when she leads the United States women’s gymnastics team into competition at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
In between her eye-popping, medal-winning performances in the gymnastics arena, Biles has found time to build her burgeoning brand within the television industry. Whether it's sliding across the dance floor on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, serving as executive producer on a Lifetime original film about her short but inspiring life or doing a semi-twist backflip before millions of viewers prior to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch during Game 2 of the 2019 World Series, Biles’s incredible athletic prowess continues to amaze and captivate in sports and entertainment.
It has also earned her recognition as Multichannel News's 2019 woman Athlete of the Year.
“Aside from the fact that she is indisputably the greatest of all time in this sport, I think that her attitude and determination, the ability the rise above her struggles makes her a one-of-a-kind athlete,” Tia Maggini, vice president of programming for Lifetime Original Movies, said.
Biles, 22, who last week was honored as the E! People’s Choice Awards “Game Changer of 2019,” burst onto the sports scene three years ago as one of the “Final Five” U.S. women’s gymnastics team members who claimed at least one medal in every event during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The petite Biles won a record four gold medals in gymnastics while helping NBC generate big ratings for her performances.
Biles’s first gold medal win in the gymnastics team event averaged 33.4 million viewers on Aug. 9, 2016 — NBC’s highest-rated night of its two-week Olympics coverage.
“Simone Biles personifies the Olympic spirit; she is an awe-inspiring and unifying force,” said NBC Sports Group chief marketing officer and executive vice president of content strategy Jenny Storms. “Her fierce dedication, coupled with her warmth and innate ability to motivate and connect with all viewers, demonstrates her unique capacity to transcend the hearts and minds of the broad and diverse Olympic audience.”
Biles’s growing popularity among viewers would also translate outside of the gymnastics arena. In 2017, Biles was chosen as one of the contestants on ABC’s competition series Dancing with the Stars. Deena Katz, the series’ talent booker and co-executive producer, said the show caught lightning in a bottle by booking Biles less than a year after her record-setting Olympics performance.
“I considered Simone America’s sweetheart,” Katz said. “People are attracted to her, amazed and enamored by her, but America didn’t know that much about her. This is a girl America fell in love with and wanted to get to know better, so I was honored when she actually said yes to the show.”
Biles would dance her way into the semifinals, where she was eliminated in what Katz termed a “shocking” decision. “One of the other highest-rated shows that season was the night she got eliminated,” she said. “There was always buzz about her throughout the season. People loved her and she was a fan favorite on the show, so it was one of the more shocking eliminations we’ve ever had. We kind of assumed she would be making it into the finals.”
Last year, Biles served as executive producer of a Lifetime biopic about her life titled The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar. Based on Biles’s book Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, the movie chronicled her struggles and triumphs in a fashion that appealed to Lifetime’s core female viewer, Maggini said. The movie premiered in May 2018 to 2.3 million viewers, finishing as one of Lifetime’s most-watched movies of the year, the network said.
“Simone’s story hit on a number of different levels,” Maggini said. “Her personal story about being adopted out of the foster care system was very inspiring and appealing to us, but what we were ultimately attracted to is Simone herself, her talent and her attitude. The fact that she’s able to be as dominant as she is, and yet do it effortlessly with a smile and a giggle, is incredible.”
Biles’s infectious personality, work ethic and near-flawless competitive performances have also helped the sport begin its recovery from the scandal surrounding former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to prison in 2018 for sexually abusing hundreds of athletes in his care, including Biles.
Joy of Competition
“One of the things that has been missing from gymnastics recently is a joy in what they are doing, given all that has transpired over the last few years,” said two-time U.S. women’s soccer gold medalist Julie Foudy, who earlier this year interviewed Biles for her ESPN Laughter Permitted podcast. “For her to do what she does with the joy that she does it is remarkable. She brings a joy that I think all gymnasts would love to have, and I think she shows what’s possible in that world.”
After her record-setting World Gymnastics performance, Biles now has the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics in her sights. NBC Sports’ Storms believes the best is yet to come for Biles.
“We look forward to witnessing Simone continue her historic journey in Tokyo, and help share her remarkable story as she lights up the screen with her extraordinary feats and natural charisma,” Storms said.
Added Foudy: “What she’s doing is so fun to watch — she defies gravity in so many different ways. She will be one of the [U.S. Olympics team’s] biggest stars this summer.”
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.