Simone Biles tried to treat the 2016 Summer Olympics like just your average ordinary gymnastics meet. So what if the stage and the stakes were different?
The floor was still the floor. The vault still the vault. The uneven bars still uneven. The balance beam still a four-inch wide test of nerves.
And the 19-year-old with the electric smile and boundless talent was still the best in the world. Maybe the best of all-time.
Over the course of 10 days in August, the biggest meet of her life ended like pretty much all the others in the four years that came before it: with Biles standing atop the podium, a gold medal around her neck and the sport she’s redefining one boundary-pushing routine at a time staring up at her. Not that she remembers any of it.
“It’s kind of a blur,” Biles said.
Maybe to Biles, but not to the rest of the world. Her massive haul in Rio de Janeiro – a record-tying four golds to go along with a bronze for the dominant U.S. women’s team – propelled her to stardom and rendered her last name superfluous. Now there’s one more honor to add to what on Twitter is known simply as (hash)SimoneThings: Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
In a vote by U.S. editors and news directors announced Monday, Biles received 31 votes out of a possible 59 votes. U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and a silver in Rio, finished second with 20 votes. Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon for the seventh time to tie Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles, and three-time NCAA women’s basketball Player of the Year Breanna Stewart tied for third with four votes each.
Biles became the fifth gymnast to win the honor, joining Olga Korbut in 1972, Nadia Comaneci in 1976, Mary Lou Retton in 1984 and Gabby Douglas in 2012. It’s company Biles joined while completing a run of dominance that included three straight all-around World Championships, an unprecedented run at the top in a sport where peaks are often measured in months, not years.
Meantime, the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year honors went to LeBron James.
BREAKING: Cavaliers superstar LeBron James voted AP Male Athlete of 2016 after bringing NBA title to Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/b0gF9WOICx
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) December 27, 2016
LeBron James was jolted forward when the massive crowd swelled from the sidewalks and into Cleveland’s streets, surrounding the convertible that he and his family were riding in. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
James looked at his wife, Savannah, their baby daughter and two sons and feared for their safety.
“We were kind of afraid for a second,” James said.
Scanning the crowd, James spotted people dangling from lamp posts and traffic lights, even a few straddling window ledges to get a glimpse of the champion Cavaliers, who were being honored with a once-in-a-generation downtown parade after their comeback in the NBA Finals. James was awe-struck, and any concerns quickly melted away when he looked at the spectators’ faces and saw only smiles, laughter and tears of joy.
“Everybody was just rejoicing in grace and happiness,” James said, fondly reflecting on the picture-perfect day in June when Cleveland was transformed into a giant block party. “It was more than I could have ever imagined. It was unforgettable, unbelievable.”
And he had made it possible.
James, who ended 52 years of sports heartache by bringing Cleveland a championship and used his superstar platform to address social causes, was chosen as The Associated Press 2016 Male Athlete of the Year, an award he won previously in 2013.
Results of the vote by 59 editors from AP member newspapers and customers were announced Tuesday.
James collected 24 first-place votes, beating out a pair of Olympic legends: Michael Phelps (16) and Usain Bolt (9), the fastest men in water and on land who are not accustomed to finishing behind anyone.
Lebron James & Simone Biles have been named the AP Athletes of the Year. pic.twitter.com/X1BXcUlp2F
— Dylan (@DylansFreshTake) December 27, 2016