Simone Biles is the G.O.A.T., and it’s OK to say so — Other gym news — Thoughts from Riley McCusker via Glamour

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Sept. 30, 2023

Happy Gymnastics Saturday! I came across this essay while reading another, mostly unrelated, article. I wasn’t even looking for gymnastics content!

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I’m always excited to see gymnastics “in the wild.” Like when Suni Lee shows up in the New York Times (NYT) crossword, or college floor routines go viral and get shown on morning television, or the NYT Connections game features gymnastics apparatuses (even if it did use “vault” and “horse” together — we can’t all be experts).

But I digress. Heather Lanier, a poet and essayist, wrote a piece on Substack about why we get so riled up when a woman acknowledges that she is, in fact, awesome, like Simone Biles did when she started showing up at meets with a bedazzled goat on her leotard. Lanier writes that, when she saw the part in the “Barbie” movie when the Barbies are winning awards and acknowledge that they deserve them and worked for them, she cried because it’s so vanishingly rare that women acknowledge how deserving they are of their own greatness. 

Instead, we’re all living in that scene from “Mean Girls” when Cady Heron innocently responds, “Thank you,” to what she thinks is a compliment from Regina George on her appearance and George responds, “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?”

Biles acknowledged in media interviews at the U.S. Classic in August how hard it was for her to be at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. She was isolated from her teammates in the name of preventing a COVID-19 outbreak, without her family and friends in attendance, and dealing with the twisties that forced her out of competition for all but one event final. The weight of expectations from USA Gymnastics insiders was too much, Biles said. People just assumed she would carry the team to victory, and the actual composition of that team mattered less than her presence. 

Now Biles is, in a full-circle moment, headed to Antwerp, Belgium, this week for the world championships. Antwerp was the site of her first world championships a decade ago. She told the Olympic Channel this week that her return to the sport this year has been focused on downplaying the extraordinary (her comeback) and focusing on the ordinary (putting in the work that makes her great). 

But she isn’t downplaying her GOAT status. “I can keep improving,” she told the Olympic Channel. 

We should believe her, and we should respond less like Regina George and more like Heather Lanier. Yes, you can, and you’re awesome — no matter what happens.

That last part is important. Biles is objectively the G.O.A.T., no matter what happens at a single performance. That is the lesson we say we took from Tokyo. Let’s show the world we mean it. As my pal Dvora Meyers wrote for Texas Monthly after Classic, anything she does from this point on is unprecedented.

Worlds qualifications begin today. Stay tuned.

Other gym news

The Gymternet has a guide to watching worlds this week. 

The Balance Beam Situation has a schedule for worlds.

College Gym News (CGN) has a feature on the NCAA gymnasts competing at worlds.

CGN also gives us stories on first-year NCAA coaches, theme routines, new rules for the 2024 season and a judge’s opinion on controversial tiebreaks.  

Here’s a list of new skills submitted by gymnasts to the FIG to be named at worlds — my favorite part! 

Jessica Gadirova may debut a Moors at worlds. 

No. 1 recruit Kamila Pawluk committed to Oklahoma, the first recruit in her class to do so.

Biles and Nina Derwael made a video to tell you to watch worlds. 

Olivia Dunne is one of Forbes‘ top creators for 2023.

Southern Connecticut’s Sophia Ruecker competed at the Asian Games.

Air Force dropped its schedule.

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Five at The IX: Riley McCusker in Glamour 

Riley McCusker stands on the balance beam on her left leg. Her right leg curves behind her and up, and her arms extend behind her.
Riley McCusker competes on beam. (Photo credit: Florida Gymnastics)

Riley McCusker, a junior at Florida and a 2018 world gold medalist, among other accolades, is one of Glamour’s College Women of the Year. McCusker spoke to the ballerina Misty Copeland for the magazine. I’ve pulled five notable responses from that interview, but you can and should read the whole thing.

MC: What’s that thing that makes you say, “This is what I was meant to do”?

RM: I love how in gymnastics, there’s always something more you could be doing, another skill you could be working on. You could be improving on little details and techniques. So I feel like there’s always something to strive for — just trying to get a little percent better every day.

MC: What’s one thing that you wish more people knew about being both a female athlete and a student athlete?

RM: I wish there were more people educated on the physiological side — the nutrition, the hormones, the psychological side of growing up and going through puberty [as an athlete] and being able to stick with your sport in a healthy way. I wish there was more education out there for people involved in female athletics to be able to help us through that transition. And then to touch on the student athlete side, I think [it’s important] to paint the full picture of what it means to be a student athlete, and that’s putting your full self into your schoolwork, into your education, into growing as a person, into new relationships, new friendships, and learning how to balance. That’s something that student athletes deserve a lot of credit for because, coming into college, it’s very difficult to do that and it’s honestly crazy how much we get done each day. So I’d like to give all the student athletes out there props for that.

MC: How are you able to balance these things?

RM: There’s definitely a learning curve, and people have to figure out what works best for them. For me, it’s kind of taking my day in increments and really putting my full self into what I’m doing and being present in the moment in front of me, or else things start to mesh together and it gets overwhelming.

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MC: Thinking about incoming freshmen, especially those who are aspiring college athletes, are there any specific words of advice that you would give?

RM: My sister’s going to be a freshman in college this year. The piece of advice I gave her was that she needs to be her biggest advocate because no one is going to care more about her grades, classes, friends, and what she does outside of sports than she will. I think it’s important for all freshmen.

MC: As athletes, we’re often told, “This is what you do; this is how you express yourself. You don’t need to have a voice.” But it’s so important to be able to advocate for yourself. Is there a standout moment that you consider one of your proudest achievements in your career?

RM: Winning a world gold medal when we went to the World Championships. And just to be able to stand on that podium and think about all of the work that I put in to get there and be able to take a gold medal home was a really special feeling. That’s definitely one of my proudest moments. And to be able to be present enough to appreciate the work that you put in while you’re standing up there on that podium, that to me doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it takes me days of thinking back on what I’ve achieved to be like, “Oh, right, I did put in the work.”

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Lela Moore