Simone Biles, Downie, Italy's women: Three standout performances at Gymnastics World Championships

Here are our top three takeaways from the recently-concluded 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart.

Simone Biles poses with the five gold medals she won at the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships.   -  Getty Images

Here are three standout performances from the recently held 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart.

Simone Biles, the consistent genius

The innate ability of a genius is being at ease while doing the most difficult of tasks in the chosen domain. Being able to witness a special performance is enthralling, the viewers cant help but feel a bit nervous for the performer. Simone Biles is that performer. She made the audiences cheer their lungs out, while putting them on the edge of their seats with the sheer difficulty of her moves.

In the sixth year of her senior career, Biles, 22, brought two skills from the realms of fantasy to earth – a triple twisting double backflip on floor exercise and a double twisting double backflip on balance beam. These two skills, once considered impossible, were christened “Biles II” (Floor Exercise) and “Biles” (Balance Beam) on the eve of the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart.

Simone Biles celebrates after winning the balance beam gold at the World Championships.   -  Getty Images

 

Like in any sport, artistic gymnastics has had countless innovators and trendsetters. Biles, however, also possesses unmatched consistency in her path-breaking moves. By winning five gold medals at the World Championships, she took her medals tally to 25 to become the most decorated gymnast of all time.

Belarus’ Vitaly Scherbo, whom Biles overtook, competed in six World Championships from 1991-96, won 12 golds, 7 silver and 4 bronze medals to clinch 23 from a possible 48 medals. Biles, meanwhile, has competed in five World Championships between 2013-19 (she had opted out of the 2017 worlds) and won 25 medals from a possible 30. Her tally comprises 19 golds, 3 silvers and 3 bronze medals.

Even when Biles errs, the mistake is on a level only which she can afford. During the all-around final in Stuttgart, she needed a score just over 12 to defend her gold medal. Biles went out of bounds twice and suffered a huge 0.4 penalty. Yet, she finished first on the apparatus with a score of 14.4 and clinched a record fifth all-around title with a combined score of 58.999. The total was also 2.1 points more than silver medallist Tang Xijing. This was the joint-highest margin of victory since 1950 (Biles also won the all-around gold at Rio 2016 by a 2.1 margin).

 

Rebecca Downie’s redemption

On the podium, Finally: Great Britian's Rebecca Downie after winning the silver medal on uneven bars in Stuttgart.   -  Getty Images

 

When the final scores on the uneven bars flashed on the big screen at the Hanns Martin Schleyer Halle, Great Britian’s Rebecca Downie was overcome with emotion. Her score read 15.000. She had won the silver medal. The 27-year old from Nottinghamshire broke down in tears as the realisation hit her. It was her first-ever individual medal at the World Championships after finishing 11th, 23th, 14th, 17th, 8th, 5th, 47th and 7th since making her debut in 2007. Beyond the results, Downie had to overcome numerous roadblocks in her career.

Downie was touted to become Britian’s finest gymnast when she burst onto the scene by winning the bronze on the balance beam and a team silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. She was the sole Brit to qualify for the all-around final in Beijing Olympics and slated for a better show in the 2012 Olympics at home.

But an injury to her Achilles tendon in 2011 shattered her Olympic dream. Despite possessing a strong routine on uneven bars, which saw her beat Olympic champion Alyna Mustafina to the gold at 2016 European Championships, a medal on the world stage eluded Downie.

At the 2017 European Championships, she fell off the bars and snapped the cruciate ligament in her elbow. She mulled over an early retirement after doctors told her that her elbow could never be fixed fully. She fought through and returned after a 12-month layoff. The comeback, however, was cut short by an ankle injury in November 2018. Downie picked herself back up again. The medal in Stuttgart is a testament to her perseverance.

 

Italy upsets the established order

The Italians hold their breath for the final confirmation during the team final.   -  Getty Images

 

The images of Italy’s women's team celebrating its bronze medal was among the heartwarming moments of 2019 World Championships. It was the nation’s first team medal since 1950. It also broke the oligarchy of the big three – USA, China and Russia – who have won 20 of the possible 21 Olympics and worlds team medals this decade. No one gave Italy a chance given that four of its five team members were competing in their first worlds.

After qualifying at eighth-place for the team final, the more-experienced Desiree Carofiglio, 19, led Italy with a stunning floor exercise routine which fetched 13.333. Her teammates, four 16-year olds – Elisa Iorio, Giorgio Villa and twins Alice and Asia D'Amato — scored consistently around the magical mark of 14 points on vault and balance beam to secure the team’s bronze medal.

Before it achieved success in Stuttgart, Italy went without a worlds medal for 56 years. Its teams also failed at Olympic qualification for three decades. Venessa Ferrari broke the lean spell and breathed new life into Italian gymnastics by winning the all-around gold, two bronze medals on uneven bars and floor exercise at the 2006 worlds.

Ferrari also contributed significantly to the current team’s development. She coached it to the juniors’ team silver medal at the 2017 Gymnix, finishing above favourite Russia. The team has improved since that second-placed finish at Montreal and can be considered a genuine medal contender at the Summer Olympics in 2020.