Simone Biles is one of the leading contenders for Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsman of the Year. You can see the full list and the entire series of essays that make the argument for each candidate here. This story also appears in the Dec. 7, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.
At the World Championships in Nanning, China, last year, a bee did what the world's top women gymnasts have been unable to do for two years—force Simone Biles from the top of the medal stand. After she won the all-around competition, Biles was given a bouquet, along with her gold at the medal ceremony, and she was so frightened when the insect came buzzing out of the flowers that she jumped off the podium and did an impromptu floor exercise as she tried to avoid it. "I don't do bugs," she said later.
Biles, 18, also doesn't do second place. She hasn't lost the all-around competition at a meet since March 2013, and she continued an unprecedented three-year run of dominance in 2015, becoming the first woman to win three straight world championships in the all-around. She also won gold medals in the balance beam and floor exercise at the world championships last month, giving her 10 career golds at the worlds, the most ever among women. Biles is one of the most decorated female gymnasts in history, and she hasn't even been to an Olympics yet.
The expected success in Rio makes Biles a likely candidate for Sportswoman of Next Year, but she deserves her place on this year's short list as well. Though she's only 4'9", Biles is the biggest thing in her sport. She won her third straight U.S. championship in August—joining Kim Zmeskal as the only three-time national champs—and she has been so far ahead of her competition that the comparisons in the press have not been solely with legends of her sport, such as Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, but also with other transcendent athletes, such as Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and Lionel Messi.
Even her competitors acknowledge the futility of trying to beat Biles. "All the girls are like, 'Simone's just in her own league. Whoever gets second place, that's the winner. Simone gets her own super first place,'" Aly Raisman, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Needham, Mass., told USA Today.
Biles doesn't just win, she laps the field. In a rare miscue she fell during a tumbling pass at the U.S. championships in Indianapolis, but the rest of her performance was so nearly flawless that she won by the second-largest margin of victory ever. After the competition analyst Tim Daggett, a former Olympian, said her all-around score of 63 would "send shock waves and shivers to the rest of the world."
Biles executes more moves with the highest degrees of difficulty than anyone, and she couples that with jaw-dropping lift on her tumbling passes and vaults. At the U.S. Championships, she separated herself from the field when she received a 9.9 on an Amanar, one of the most difficult vaults. "I don't really think about the degree of difficulty or the possibility of making a mistake," Biles says. "I just try to relax and let my preparation and training take over."
Her talent might never have been discovered if Biles hadn't visited a gym, Bannon's Gymnastix in Spring, Texas, on a day-care field trip when she was six. One of the coaches there noticed her copying the moves of some of the gymnasts and doing it remarkably well. The staff sent a letter home to her family, and Biles began taking recreational classes at Gymnastix under Aimee Boorman, who remains her coach today.
Biles has won a truckload of medals since then, but she doesn't revel in them. Her mother puts them in a safe, and Biles doesn't know the combination. Maybe it should be 2-0-1-5, the year she was as close to perfect as any athlete in any sport.