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Simone Biles Takes Gold And Aly Raisman Silver In Gymnastics All-Around In Rio

Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the women's individual all-around gymnastics final on Thursday. Biles won the gold and teammate Aly Raisman took the silver.
Alex Livesey
Getty Images
Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the women's individual all-around gymnastics final on Thursday. Biles won the gold and teammate Aly Raisman took the silver.

Simone Biles seized a gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics final Thursday, recovering from second place — where she was halfway through the event — to take gold. Raisman also had to make up ground to earn the silver.

The 1-2 finish came days after the pair seized a second consecutive gold medal for the U.S. women's gymnastics team. But Thursday, they were up against both each other and 22 of the world's top gymnasts, with athletes from Russia and China turning in performances that made the final an thrilling competition.

"I think the pressure I put on myself was more than I took in from the media or anybody else. But I was just pressuring myself to hit sets," Biles said afterwards with a laugh. "The atmosphere in the arena was amazing and for everyone to cheer and chant along, it gets you more pumped to do your routines, and more adrenaline. So it's very exciting."

That's what Biles had to say immediately after her win, courtesy of NPR's Russell Lewis, who tracked her down as she spoke to reporters. Russell also found Raisman, who talked about the difficulty of merging the excitement of the moment with the technical demands of skills such as the balance beam.

"It's very nerve-wracking doing beam and bars in the finals at the Olympics. One little thing and you're off," Raisman said. "When you finally hit the routine and you just know no matter what you've did everything you possibly could, it's just a great feeling."

After the first half of Thursday's rotations were complete, Biles was in second place, trailing Russia's Aliya Mustafina 30.866 to 30.832, and Raisman was in third. But Biles finished strong, turning in the highest-scoring performances of the day on her final two turns. And Raisman followed suit, scoring second-highest.

Final scores for the top three: 62.198 for Biles, 60.098 for Raisman and 58.665 for Mustafina.

By taking gold, Biles becomes the fourth different U.S. gymnast to win the all-around competition in the past four Olympics. America's Gabby Douglas, who won in 2012, didn't earn one of the top two American spots for this final (in which each country is limited to two athletes).

And with Raisman's silver, the pair replicate the 1-2 finish by Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson back in 2008.

Raisman hugs Biles as they wait for Biles' score during Thursday's competition.
Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Getty Images
Raisman hugs Biles as they wait for Biles' score during Thursday's competition.

Speaking at a news conference after the final, Raisman described going up against her friend and teammate — and she talked about the revenge she's plotting against Biles for her nickname — "grandma" — due to her age (22).

"I can't wait until [Biles] gets 60. So then I can call her grandma," Raisman said. "I can finally get back at her. When you are on a Olympic team and being successful, there is nothing that can happen to drift you apart."

For her part, Biles, 19, recalled an earlier exchange she had with U.S. team coordinator Marta Karolyi.

"I saw Marta in the mixed zone," Biles said, referring to the area where athletes chat with media. "A few years ago she said something like: 'You are this bouncy kid, I am not sure about you.' But here we are."

In the all-around, four groups of gymnasts rotate around the arena to the different apparatus — and the uneven bars, which neither Biles nor Raisman specializes in, were in the first half of their rotation. Their group started on the vault and finished on the balance beam and the floor exercise.

Update at 5 p.m. ET: It All Sinks In For Biles

Moments after Biles finished her floor routine, she and Raisman and their coaches were all smiles, chatting about their historic week in Olympic gymnastics. But then when Biles' final score was announced, emotion overwhelmed her and it was all about tears.

Update at 5 p.m. ET: Biles Enjoys The Moment And Wins Gold

She smiled throughout her routine and ended her last run with the pounding drums of a Brazilian Carnival. It looks like a coronation of the gymnast all of us knew was the best in the world before anyone landed in Rio.

Rebeca Andrade of Brazil competes on the floor.
Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images
Getty Images
Rebeca Andrade of Brazil competes on the floor.

One U.S. coach — Aimee Boorman — seems to be wiping away tears.

Update at 4:58 p.m. ET: Raisman Is Rock Solid

Within seconds of Raisman beginning her routine, silver seems locked in her hands — and only a flub by Biles can give her the gold. Her explosive jumps end with impossibly high flips and the sound of two feet pounding into the floor with authority.

The crowd knows what it just saw, and is loving it. Raisman is weeping even as she lands her last run — and then she bows and runs off the floor, knowing she did what she needed to do. Her coach is waiting there to embrace her.

It's a 15.433 for Raisman and she's pleased.

Update at 4:54 p.m. ET: Andrade Wows The Home Crowd

We thought we'd see something special when the Brazilian Andrade took the floor, and we're not disappointed. A roar began as she walked onto the surface, and the crowd is going bananas for her medley of pop music.

She is nailing her landings in time with the music and showing real grace. Many in the crowd are on their feet when she finishes.

When her score is announced — 13.766 — the crowd howls as if Lord Voldemort himself has just set foot in the arena. They then chant "An-drade!"

Up next: Raisman, then Biles.

Update at 4:46 p.m. ET: Mustafina Makes Her Bid For Silver

Raisman was third halfway through the all-around competition, but managed to finish in second.
Elsa / Getty Images
Getty Images
Raisman was third halfway through the all-around competition, but managed to finish in second.

In a floor program that has the art and elegance you'd expect from a Russian gymnast who finished third in this discipline in the London Games, Mustafina impresses the crowd. But her program doesn't wow the judges. Her score: 13.933 — 14th best of the day.

Mustafina is not one to dilly-dally. Before the scores were announced, she sat on the floor and unwrapped the tape from her ankles. She talks with her coach, but there are no smiles this time.

Update at 4:37 p.m. ET: One Skill Left: Who Will Take Gold And Silver?

The floor exercise is underway, and Biles leads with a combined score of 46.265. She has the top scores of the day on both the vault and beam.

Mustafina is in second place — she led after the uneven bars — with a score of 44.732. Right behind her at 44.665 is Raisman, who overcame her slightly wobbly uneven bars performance to turn in a great performance on the beam.

Update at 4:25 p.m. ET: Raisman Is Nearly Perfect On The Beam

After losing ground in the uneven bars, she needed a great performance — and Raisman turned one in. She had the smoothest routine we've seen on the apparatus, with only a hop on her dismount to break up what was a smooth and artful routine.

She knows it the second she lands; she hugs her coach and — everyone's all smiles now — she and Biles share a big hug and chatter the way we've seen them.

Raisman's score is 14.866 — giving her a solid third place as they head to the floor exercise — and she can set her sights on Mustafina in second.

Yan Wang of China in a backbend above the balance beam on Thursday.
Elsa / Getty Images
Getty Images
Yan Wang of China in a backbend above the balance beam on Thursday.

The American followed Andrade, whose performance got the crowd here in Rio to get loud.

Update at 4:18 p.m. ET: Mustafina Slumps

It's now Mustafina's turn. Will she be able to keep the pressure on Biles, who had such a strong performance on the vault? She looks fluid and technically strong on the beam, but not as adventurous as others in her group.

The landing on her dismount is not bad, but not great. Score: 13.866 — 10th best on the beam so far today. She trails Biles by around 1.5 points heading into floor exercise, the last skill of the rotation for their group.

Mustafina's teammate, Tutkhalian, follows with a wobbly routine that she's not pleased about. She landed on her backside after initially sticking the dismount.

Update at 4:15 p.m. ET: Wang Delivers A Smooth Routine

It's the kind of routine that afterward, she has no problem turning to the camera and giving a bright smile and a wave.

A replay just showed that Wang seems to be able to touch her forehead with her toes when she leaps off the beam and curls her legs backwards. We have no idea how one realizes that that's possible — other than to credit her with lots of practice.

Update at 4:10 p.m. ET: Biles On The Beam

Russia's Aliya Mustafina earned the bronze medal for the women's all-around final.
Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Aliya Mustafina earned the bronze medal for the women's all-around final.

Biles leads off the second half of the competition by starting her group's rotation on the beam. She shows the grace and strength for which she's famous, making a series of flips and a one-foot spin look perfectly natural on a 4-inch-wide beam. Her dismount looks flawless to us, with a landing that stuck her to the floor.

Mustafina walks away from the area, puts her hands on her hips.

Biles was all smiles afterward, but then got quiet as the wait for her score dragged on. Here it is: 15.433, the best of the day so far.

Update at 4 p.m. ET: Seitz Slips Down Ranks

Coming off a strong uneven bars performance, Seitz needed a good balance beam routine to stay in contention for a medal. She didn't get it, netting a 13.200 score that drops her to 13th.

Update at 3:55 p.m. ET: Mustafina Moves Into First

Her vault was solid and her uneven bars routine was great: Mustafina has served notice that this is not a two-way meet between Biles and Raisman.

Mustafina's 15.666 score on the bars is the best of the day.

Russia's Aliya Mustafina (right) speaks with teammate Seda Tutkhalian at the women's individual all-around final of the Artistic Gymnastics.
Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Aliya Mustafina (right) speaks with teammate Seda Tutkhalian at the women's individual all-around final of the Artistic Gymnastics.

Update at 3:45 p.m. ET: Uneven Bars Throw Raisman A Curve

Raisman performs her routine on the uneven bars and looks a little concerned that perhaps it was off. Her score suggests it was: 14.166 — lower than five other gymnasts who hsve already performed there.

Biles then follows — and she's smiling as she lands, because she knows her feet just landed with a straight solid thunk. Score: 14.966, for the second-best rating of the day on the bars.

The best score on the uneven bars came from Germany's Elisabeth Seitz, 22, who earned a 15.233. She used it to get into the top six.

So far, Raisman's combined two scores are enough to keep her in second place after her first two skills. We'll be watching closely to see if that holds.

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET: The In-Between Times

Biles and Raisman have been mainly looking focused and businesslike — as gymnasts often do in a competition like this. We've seen them trade smiles a little. And now as they wait for their next rotation to be called, they gather and talk to their coach.

The Russian gymnasts, Mustafina and Tutkhalian, seem to be under less pressure. They're chatting quietly and smiling — and Mustafina tells Tutkhalian to hold still, because there is a slight mar to the makeup near her eye. She brushes it away, and Tutkhalian thanks her. It turns out Tutkhalian is a smiler — she won't stop. It's a nice moment.

Update at 3:15 p.m. ET: Scores Come In

Mustafina lands her vault perfectly — similar to how the Americans performed in the team competition. She scores a 15.200

We're now one-quarter through this final, and the scores for the Americans' group after the vault are:

Biles — 15.866
Raisman — 15.633
Andrade — 15.566
Mustafina — 15.200
Tutkhalian — 14.866
Wang — 14.733

Because the Americans' group started out on the vault — the quickest of all the apparatus — they'll wait a bit before getting to warm up on the uneven bars.

As more scores come in, Wang drops to eighth place. She'll have to work to reclaim some ground.

Update at 3:13 p.m. ET: Wang Yan

China's lone gymnast in the top group of this rotation doesn't get the elevation of her competitors. She takes a sideways step to help keep her feet on the landing pad. The judges slice a tenth of a point off her score.

Update at 3:10 p.m. ET: Raisman And Biles On The Vault

After Andrade leads off with a twisting vault on which she lands slightly off-kilter, Raisman follows with a vault of her own, performing 2 1/2 twists in an Amanar that she finishes with a little hop on the landing.

Biles follows with her own Amanar — and, like Raisman, takes a rather large hop and a step upon landing.

Earlier, the gymnasts entered the arena to loud cheers — particularly for Rebeca Andrade of Brazil.

Here's the start list for the Americans' group, which began on the vault:

Rebeca Andrade — 17, Brazil
Aly Raisman — 22, U.S.A.
Simone Biles — 19, U.S.A.
Yan Wang — 16, China
Aliya Mustafina — 21, Russia
Seda Tutkhalian — 17, Russia

We'll remind you that Team USA's Gabby Douglas can't compete in this final, because each country is limited to two athletes in the all-around.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 11, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
In a previous version of this story we incorrectly gave coach Aimee Boorman's last name as Boardman.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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