Yesterday, Simone Biles won her third Olympic gold medal, setting the U.S. record for the most gold medals won in a single Olympics by a female gymnast.
“It’s something I wanted so badly, so I just tried to keep a good mind going into vault,” Biles said after her win.
Keeping a good mind is everything in sports—and in your career. Even if you don’t follow the Olympics and can’t tell an Amanar from a Cheng, there’s a lot you can learn from America’s most elite gymnast.
- “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
This year’s Olympics coverage has been marred by a bizarre strain of sexism, with news outlets crediting Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s record to her husband/coach, and finding space in a headline to mention bronze medalist Corey Cogdell’s husband (Bears lineman Mitch Unrein) but not her sport (trap shooting).
Then there’s the casual racism of headlines like Phelps Shares Historic Night With African American, referring to Simone Manuel’s becoming the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in swimming.
When a woman or an African-American succeeds, there are still plenty of people out there who will try to give credit for her achievements to someone else. That’s true in sports, and that’s true in business.
That’s why it was so important for Simone Biles to assert that she’s not the “next” anyone. She’s the very first her.
- She sees opportunities for improvement and takes them.
Last year, at the world championships, Biles took the bronze on the vault—impressive for any athlete, except Biles, who won the silver the previous year.
“She has medaled at the world championships on vault, but she hasn’t been able to win because her difficulty wasn’t high enough,” her coach, Aimee Boorman, told USA Today.
Biles renewed her commitment to working on the Cheng, a vault she’d been practicing for a year, but that wasn’t ready for competition. Yesterday, she used it to bring home the gold.
“There is a lot of satisfaction I have in winning gold on vault. Finally,” Biles said. “I’m just very excited because I was able to upgrade my second vault, and it’s exactly what I needed to do.”
- She competes against herself.
Yesterday, Biles won her second individual gold medal, finishing first in the vault. Still, she was unhappy with her landing on the first attempt.
“That first vault that she didn’t like, it earned Biles a 15.900, which was 0.367 higher than any other gymnast scored on a single vault,” writes Dan Wetzel at Yahoo! Sports. “She then followed it up with a meet-high 16.033 to take gold handily with an average of 15.966.”
Wetzel notes that Biles’ score was not only significantly higher than the silver medalist’s, but “the highest score ever in a vault final in an Olympics or world championships.”
Bottom line: you can’t succeed if you’re constantly looking behind you. In this age of carefully curated Facebook and Instagram feeds, it’s easy to get caught up in what other people are doing. Resist.
Don’t be the next anyone. Be the first you.
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