Going into the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles was already the most accomplished gymnast of our time. With her bronze medal in the balance beam final on Tuesday, she tied two important records in the sport.
Biles, 24, now has a total of 32 Olympic and world medals, matching Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union, though Biles has more golds overall. Biles also has earned seven Olympic medals, tying Shannon Miller as the most successful American gymnast in the Games. Biles, though, has four golds to Miller’s two.
Miller, 44, earned her Olympic medals in 1992 and in 1996, the year when the Americans first won the team event.
Latynina, 86, competed when the countries behind the Iron Curtain were dominating women’s gymnastics. Between 1956 and 1964, she won 18 Olympic medals. She maintains the record for the most Olympic gold medals by any gymnast: nine.
Context is important. The complexity of gymnastics has evolved tremendously since Latynina’s time, partially because of the equipment. Back then, the uneven bars were less flexible, and the floor exercise mat and beam did not have springs. The vault was not shaped like a table, but instead resembled the narrower pommel horse used by the men.
“What we did is not comparable to what modern gymnasts do,” Latynina said in a recent interview with Reuters. “Looking at what gymnasts today do, I’m a little afraid. Would I have started gymnastics or not?”
Biles holds several records outright. Among both men and women, she has the most world championship medals, 25, and the most gold medals, 19, in those competitions. She also holds the most all-around titles from world championships — five — because the competition was less frequently until 1978.
She was also the first American gymnast to win a world championship medal on every apparatus.