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Simone Biles falls back to earth as ‘nerves’ end bid for history

Simone Biles's name won't be perched alone on top of the list of women's Olympic gymnastics greats after the Rio Games on Tuesday but the American warned she is planning on ending on a high with a record-equalling fourth gold.
US gymnast Simone Biles reacts after competing in the women's balance beam event final of the Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 15, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Toshifumi KITAMURA

US gymnast Simone Biles reacts after competing in the women’s balance beam event final of the Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 15, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Toshifumi KITAMURA

Simone Biles’s name won’t be perched alone on top of the list of women’s Olympic gymnastics greats after the Rio Games on Tuesday but the American warned she is planning on ending on a high with a record-equalling fourth gold.

The 19-year-old, who had seemed unbeatable over the past nine days in Rio with eye-popping routines which combined difficulty, power and beauty, suddenly slipped back among the ranks of mortals.

A wobbly landing coming out of a forward front somersault had the Texan unelegantly grappling to stay on the beam. Another gymnast might have tumbled off, but Biles held on.

But her result reflected the effort, throwing off her dream of a record five gold medals at the same Games.

She still managed to take bronze behind Dutch gymnast Sanne Wevers and US teammate Laurie Hernandez.

It was a fourth Olympic medal for Biles after her gold in the team, all-around and vault — but not the colour she wanted.

“Obviously, once we get out there, it’s just human you get a little bit nervous,” said ten-time world champion Biles.

A gold would have seen her join Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romanian Ecaterina Szabo (1984) who all won four gold at the same Olympics.

“I think you guys want the (five) more than I do. I just want to perform the routines that I practice,” she said afterwards.

Her coach Aimee Boorman said that only Biles could have managed not to fall off the beam.

“Yes she is human,” said Boorman, who has coached Biles since she was six years old. “(But) I don’t know how she made that save. That took superhuman powers.”

Biles is now looking to wrap up with gold on floor in the Rio Olympic Arena on Tuesday, an apparatus on which she is the reigning three-time world champion.

Her leading challenge should come from teammate Aly Raisman, the Olympic floor champion, and looking for a sixth Olympic medal over two Games and fourth in gold.

“I’m a little tired. The floor always pumps me up,” Biles added.

The final day of competition also sees Oleg Verniaiev — who gave Kohei Uchimura a scare in the all-around before settling for silver behind the Japanese great — bid for gold on the parallel bars and the horizontal bar.

The Ukrainian will be challenged on parallel bars by world champion You Hao and Deng Shudi, looking for a first gymnastics gold for China in Rio.

Epke Zonderland, known as the ‘Flying Dutchman’, defends his horizontal bars title with Germany’s Fabien Hambuechen looking to complete his collection of silver and bronze from London and Beijing.

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