ANTWERP, Belgium – Ten years ago today, Simone Biles won her first world gold medal. On Wednesday, she won her 20th as the U.S. women topped the team podium at the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships for the seventh-straight time.
It’s the first time a men’s or women’s gymnastics team has won seven-straight world titles.
The United States won with a 167.729, Brazil was second with a 165.530, and France – the only team to hit clean in the final – was third with a 164.064.
“I think each and every time you are crowned world champion, it feels a little bit different,” Biles said after the meet. “…It feels just as good as the first one, just because we broke records, we came together, we had fight. I got to be here with two of my teammates – we have Joscelyn [Roberson] and Melanie [de Jesus dos Santos, of France] – so it’s different, but it’s exciting.”
Roberson was right next to Biles in the mixed zone, leaning on crutches with her lower left leg and ankle wrapped and splinted after coming up short on her Cheng during the vault warmup in Rotation 1. She was carried off by their coach, Laurent Landi, and replaced by Leanne Wong on vault and floor.
“It was very chaotic,” Wong said. “…I had to get up there and perform [last minute], but I couldn’t do it without my teammates and coaches who kept reminding me that I was trained for this and I could do it.”
When the team went to beam in the third rotation, Wong slipped on her side aerial in the lead-off spot, falling on a skill and routine that she has been rock solid on all elite season.
“I was first up on a couple events and didn’t have my best, so I really put the pressure on the team, but I’m really proud of them for getting through it,” Wong said of the mistake.
Wong’s fall was the only major blemish of the night for the United States, but each team member had their moments – even Biles broke her triple connection when mounting beam and didn’t do her usual back pike. But thanks to a large difficulty buffer (the U.S. qualified first by more than five points), the real battle was always for silver and bronze.
Second place qualifier Great Britain had three falls – Jessica Gadirova on vault and Georgia-Mae Fenton on bars and beam.
Third place qualifier China couldn’t overcome a fall on floor and low difficulty on vault.
“First, we have to improve our physical ability,” Qiu Qiyuan said of the team’s low vault difficulty. “We need that strength in order to learn those difficult vaults and make sure we don’t get hurt. For us, we need to practice more on the strength and then improve vaulting skills.”
Both situations threw the door wide open, making the final two rotations especially interesting. Brazil and France ultimately rose to the occasion.
The silver marked Brazil’s first world team medal ever, and the bronze was France’s first world team medal since 1950.
Beyond the history tied to the occasion, both the silver and bronze medalists have been through the wringer to get to this point.
In 2019, Brazil failed to qualify a team to the Tokyo Olympic Games after being plagued with ACL injuries from current team members Rebeca Andrade and Jade Barbosa, and France, plagued with its own injuries, hadn’t been able to deliver a clean meet and capitalize on its star power, like Marine Boyer and De Jesus dos Santos.
“Honestly, I still can’t believe it,” De Jesus dos Santos said. “I’m so, so proud of my team, of what we have done tonight. We really performed the way we needed to, to get on the podium, so I’m really happy with my team tonight.”
How it happened
Rotation 1: While warming up, Joscelyn Roberson came up short on her Cheng and was reaching for her ankles. She stood there bent over for a moment until the coaches noticed. She tried to walk but couldn’t, so her coach, Laurent Landi, scooped her up and carried her off to medical. Leanne Wong immediately jumped on the podium to do a quick warmup. Jones, Wong, and Biles – in that order – hit their vaults cleanly, with Biles doing a very tidy Cheng. 14.800.
Roberson was seen soon after making her way back to the competition floor on crutches with her lower left leg and ankle wrapped with a splint.
Rotating with the U.S., Great Britain laid down two clean double-twisting Yurchenkos before Jessica Gadirova fell on her Cheng.
Both China and Brazil had a strong rotation on bars, where the highlight was Qiu Qiyuan’s set that included a laid-out Jaeger for a 14.733. Rebeca Andrade connected almost her entire routine to go 14.400.
Elsewhere, Hatakeda Chiaki (JPN) attempted the L-turn, but it didn’t get credit, even after an inquiry. 2016 Olympic beam champion Sanne Wevers (NED) fell on her signature apparatus.
Rotation 2: In her only routine of the day, Skye Blakely led-off Team USA with a hit bars set for a 14.166. Biles followed with an even better set than qualifying to earn a 14.466. Shilese Jones closed things out with her packed routine to go 14.633.
Great Britain saw a fall from Georgia-Mae Fenton on bars.
Brazil would firmly be in contention for a medal if they hit, but beam was rough. Julia Soares falls, and Rebeca Andrade has one too many balance checks. The saving grace is Flavia Saraiva, who is practically perfect to earn a 14.066.
China was superb on beam except for Zhang Qingying, who seemed to incur a large deduction on her back loop. Zhou Yaqin anchored with a 14.533.
Rotation 3: Leanne Wong, who subbed in last minute for Joscelyn Roberson on vault, split the beam on her side aerial and came off the apparatus in a surprising mistake for the typically rock solid NCAA star. Shilese Jones followed with a hit despite a couple shaky moments to score a 13.600. Simone Biles broke the connection on her mount series and didn’t do her back pike, but she was solid the rest of the way and earned a 14.300.
Great Britain’s Georgia-Mae Fenton fell again on beam. Jessica Gadirova had multiple major balance checks.
Brazil continued to roll on floor, with Rebeca Andrade doing one of the best floor routines of her career to earn a 14.666. China had a fall from Ou Yushan in the anchor position.
France was third after Rotation 2 and saw both Lorette Charpy and Melanie de Jesus dos Santos go 14+ to keep them in bronze medal position heading to beam.
Italy was in the mix as well, approximately six-tenths back from France and heading to bars.
The battle for bronze seemed to be between France, Brazil, and Italy in third, fourth, and fifth heading into the final rotation.
Rotation 4: By the fourth rotation, 2022 silver medalist Great Britain had essentially fallen out of contention after one too many mistakes
Leanne Wong subbed in for Joscelyn Roberson on floor as well. She had quite a few large hops on her landings. It wasn’t her usual tidy work, but the 13.166 was sufficient nonetheless. Shilese Jones also struggled with staying clean on her landings but still scored a 13.566. She also attempted the triple L-turn but didn’t seem to receive credit.
Italy was breathing down France’s neck heading into the fourth rotation. Alice D’Amato was swinging beautifully in the second position but shockingly fell off during a seemingly typical handstand turn sequence before her double front dismount.
Brazil, led by a 14.900 for Rebeca Andrade’s Cheng, jumped ahead of China and knew before any of the other medalists that they likely secured silver.
France was rock solid through all three beam routines and was anchored by a nearly perfect set from Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, who mounted with a gorgeous front pike, dismounted with a stuck double pike, and went 14.000 to secure the bronze for her country ahead of China, who dropped to fourth.
By the time Simone Biles stepped up to the floor as the final routine of the night, she needed a measly (for her) 12.967 to secure Team USA’s seventh-straight world title, and she did that and far more, earning a 15.166.