She’s likely the smallest person ever to carry the American flag during an Olympics Closing Ceremony.
But there’s no disputing that gymnast Simone Biles rose head and shoulders above much of the world at last summer’s Rio Games.
Nicknamed “$imoney” for her unfailing ability to nail routines, Biles, 19, triple-flipped, double-twisted and split-leapt her way to the 2016 Olympic individual all-around—joining 2012 champ Gabby Douglas as the only (and back-to-back) African-American female U.S. gymnast winners of what’s arguably the signature event of every Summer Olympics. The 4-foot-9 dynamo also led the U.S. “Final Five,” which included Douglas, to the team title and picked up two more individual golds in floor exercise and vault.
Her five total medals (she won four gold and one bronze for the balance beam) tied her for the most ever by an American Olympic gymnast. Plus, she was named the 2016 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and chosen to serve as Team USA’s flagbearer. Maybe even better, from the ebullient, endearingly normal teen’s perspective, it also brought her a surprise kissy-face-to-face meeting in Rio with her longtime crush, actor Zac Efron.
Biles rises high outside the gym as well. Her recent best-selling book, “Courage to Soar,” recounts her path from foster care to being adopted by her paternal grandparents who’ve supported her every step (and flip and twist) of the way of her precedent-shattering gymnastics career.
The Houston-area resident hasn’t yet ruled out an Olympics return in 2020.
Celebrate Black History Month
Throughout February, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put a daily spotlight on different African-American pioneers in celebration of Black History Month. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for the whole 28-part series and for more subscriber exclusives and videos of the people, places and organizations that changed the world.