RIO DE JANEIRO — At 19, gymnast Simone Biles shows no sign of burnout.
Her skills are so far superior to those of her rivals — as she proved with her gold medal tour de force in Thursday’s Olympic all-around final — that there’s every reason to believe she still would be the world’s dominant gymnast, provided she stays healthy, when the 2020 Summer Games are held.
But the question of whether Biles will return for a second Olympics or end her medal pursuit here in Rio, where she could add three more golds to the two in hand, likely won’t be settled anytime soon.
Aimee Boorman, her coach since age 7, said Friday she doesn’t expect to see Biles back in the gym for at least a year after the Rio Games, even if she decides to return for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Boorman hinted she was leaning against that, even before Rio’s Opening Ceremonies.
In one respect, Biles has nothing more to accomplish. She arrived in Rio as a three-time world all-around champion. In a 48-hour span, she led her country to the team gold and won the individual all-around gold by a two-point margin over teammate Aly Raisman and nearly a four-point margin over the best gymnasts the rest of the world had to offer.
“Even before they won their team gold, she was like, ‘I made the Olympic team. What else do I have to prove?’ ” Boorman recounted Friday. “She feels like she has done it all; she kind of feels like she wants to pass the torch to someone else. In two years, she might be singing a different song.”
The “Final Five” that won team gold for the United States last week includes a pair of two-time Olympians: 2012 all-around champion Gabby Douglas and Raisman, who won gold in the floor exercise and bronze in the balance beam in London but was edged by a tiebreak for the all-around bronze after she earned the same score as Russia’s Aliya Mustafina.
That disappointment is what drove Raisman’s return for Rio. Still, her longtime coach, Mihai Brestyan, refused to take her back as his pupil until she proved she was motivated by the right reason.
Along with the rest of the 2012 U.S. team, Raisman took a break from training after London to enjoy the spoils of her gold medal success: a multi-city U.S. exhibition tour, which offered a chance to do gymnastics for sheer fun; talk-show appearances; awards ceremonies; and a turn on “Dancing with the Stars.”
“It’s very, very hard to explain what’s really, really in the mind of the kid when they are coming back,” Brestyan said Friday, looking on as a media horde engulfed the U.S. gymnasts. “For sure, they like the sport. And when you succeed, you like to be famous.”
But the fame that accompanies Olympic gold fades after about a year, he noted. “You feel like, ‘Okay, now I’m not famous anymore, but I can still can do [gymnastics].’ ”
So Brestyan asked Raisman whether she wanted to return for Rio because she missed being famous or because she wanted to win the medal she had been denied.
“For me, if it’s just for fame, it’s not enough,” Brestyan said. “It’s too hard. It’s too difficult. I don’t want to suffer, and she doesn’t need to suffer. Not one of us wants this kid to suffer.”
What Raisman wanted was the medal, so they went back to work in the summer of 2013. And that’s why she and her coach both wept Thursday when she clinched the all-around silver.
It’s why 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson wept, too, looking on from the stands.
“To see her make a statement on the floor last night, to see her crying after she finished, my heart just broke for her — but in a good way,” said Johnson, who won four medals in Beijing.
Johnson tried returning for a second Olympics after taking a 20-month hiatus from the sport. But she abandoned her pursuit, unable to regain Olympic-caliber form.
Now 24, she understands the challenge Douglas and Raisman faced in trying to qualify for a second Olympics, particularly in a country with such depth of gymnastics talent.
“I think it has been an uphill battle for Aly, proving to Martha [Karolyi] and the selection committee that a girl in her 20s could still do it and could earn that spot,” Johnson said. “It has been a really rough road, outdoing the 16-year-olds. But she had that revenge and redemption story the past four years.
“She wants to be a kid now. And a girl. Eat a cheeseburger and have fun. She has given up a lot for it.”
Biles, whom Johnson considers the greatest female gymnast in the sport’s history, will leave Rio with nothing to avenge. She deserves the chance to be a kid and eat cheeseburgers, too.
But if in a year or two her heart is tugged by the pursuit of more Olympic medals, they should be well within her grasp.
“It’s easy for her,” Brestyan said. “I don’t see any reason in the world, 191/2 years old, to go out when you can be really be the best in the world again in four years. I don’t see any reason.”