T10B Busted: Simone Biles is not the GOAT (at least, not yet)

Synopsis: Lest you think I dislike Simone Biles based on the title of this post, I have the utmost respect for her achievements in the gym and perseverance out of it. Prior to Biles, I considered gymnastics an Olympic sport worth watching every four years. Thanks to the American GOAT, my perception of what a gymnast can do on a mat, beam or vault has changed forever. I looked forward to seeing her superhuman acrobatics during the Covid-delayed 2020 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Despite tremendous physical skills, she unfortunately suffered a mental collapse at the most inopportune time. Like most, I supported her decision to pull out of multiple events to take care of her mental state and avoid serious injury. Unlike most, however, I believe her limited participation prevented her from rightfully being considered her sport’s unqualified GOAT. Fortunately, the final chapter of her career has not been written.


I originally wrote this post a couple years ago right after the completion of the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics. While my contention that Simone Biles is not her sport’s GOAT shouldn’t be overly controversial, I had a hard time hitting the “publish” button. Of note, I worried about seeming insensitive to someone’s mental health at a vulnerable time. Now that Biles has returned to competition and likely has another Olympics ahead of her, I feel more comfortable reengaging in the debate.

As a quick reminder, the Tokyo Olympics or “Covid Games” were a major disappointment. The host country hoped to celebrate the end of a global shutdown after a one-year delay, but a resurgence of cases resulted in the elimination of all spectators. NBC did its best to create drama, but I’m not going out on a limb stating that the competition fell short. It felt like torture seeing Simone Biles on the sidelines after she withdrew from numerous events, watching the heavily favored USWNT settle for a bronze medal, and waiting for the USA to barely eclipse China for the most overall golds. Adding to the disappointment, NBC missed the mark by showing the most important live events on Peacock instead of their 8 other networks.

I disagreed with NBC’s programming decision because events like the Super Bowl and Olympics are cultural phenomena which shouldn’t be restricted to pay-per-view or streaming services. I don’t mean to suggest that networks should be limited in their ability to make a profit. Rather, I argue there’s a collective value to broad viewership. Don’t worry, I know I sound like a curmudgeonly old man lamenting progress. At least, I don’t also look like one ever since my daughter advised me not to leave the house with New Balance sneakers.


For as long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever experience a sporting event like the USA hockey team’s victory over the USSR during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. The memory is so strong that I can recite most of the U.S. team roster to this day. My fourth grade teacher (Mrs. F-O-X) held a contest that year for students to keep track of as many medal winners as they could. The Olympics coincided with a school break so I had something fun to do during my winter “staycation.” If I missed an event on TV, I read the sports page in the Stamford Advocate to learn the results.

My classmates apparently must not have approached the contest like I did (or were otherwise preoccupied during their actual vacations) because very few participated. I would have won in a landslide but my teacher refused to reward my effort as if I had an unfair advantage for staying home. Now that I have been on the other side, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one overly involved parent made that exact argument. Regardless, the cancelation of the contest confirmed my dominant performance and served a better reward than some bookmark or trinket that would have been lost decades ago.

I referenced the Stamford Advocate, our local newspaper, for a couple reasons. First, the tape-delayed USA / USSR hockey game had the excitement of a live event because most information back then came from newspapers instead of the internet. If I had known the result beforehand, I may not have watched. At a minimum, I wouldn’t be writing about it 40 years later. Second, I fondly remember earning my first dollar as a back-up paperboy when the regular guy literally paid me $1 to deliver 13 papers for him. I was only 11 at the time, but got hooked and eventually built a paper route with over 180 customers. The lessons I learned involving customer service, sales, economies of scale, and cash management remain with me over 40 years later.

5x Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Heiden
5x Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Heiden

With plenty of time to watch the 1980 Winter Olympics, I saw each of Eric Heiden’s five gold-medal-winning speed skating races. I remember Swede Ingemar Stemark winning two golds and hating him because Sweden was the sworn enemy of Florin Norway (my dad’s homeland). Still, I somehow thought that my dad would celebrate the same way I did when the U.S. hockey team beat Norway by a score of 5-1 in an early round match-up. Instead he seemed completely disinterested when I shared the news as soon as he came through the front door and walked up the steps of our split-level ranch. Then again, perhaps he had other more important things on his mind considering everything else going on in the world (e.g., political unrest with U.S. hostages in Iran, energy crisis with long lines at the pump, and economic uncertainty with crippling inflation and unemployment).


It may be 30-40 years from now, but I hope my kids or besties fully understand the purpose of T10B by then. They may have to endure longwinded stories about various athletes or other “bustworthy” celebrities/politicians, but they should find numerous nuggets about their Dad or Beste making the effort worthwhile. If any of them chose to add to this site, that’ll simply be icing on the cake.

Shortly before his death, my dad wrote an autobiography as a way for his kids and grandkids to learn about his life. While reading the book, I learned that he made a transistor radio which allowed him to listen to firsthand accounts of America’s involvement in D-Day. When Nazis came to his house due to an unusual radio signal in the area, his sister prevented an officer from looking in her underwear drawer because that’s where he had hidden the contraband. She risked her own life because she knew my dad would be killed if the German soldiers found his radio. In his book, my dad recounted another story about watching an uncle get shot for supporting the Norwegian resistance movement. Like many people who were negatively impacted by WWII, my dad rarely talked about his experiences during that part of his life. I’m glad he wrote his book before those experiences were lost forever.


For anyone who might not be familiar with the Nazi occupation of Norway, I suggest watching The 12th Man (2018).

Adding to the personal connection, the female lead had the same name as my Tante Gudrun. Relative to all the female names on my dad’s side of the family (Gudrun, Signe, Ivara, Else, Borghild, and Helga), my wife thought Gudrun would be a cute name for a daughter. My Tante Gudrun might have been the scariest person under 5′ tall that I ever met so I couldn’t let that happen. You’re welcome, Catherine.


I have spent many hours developing analyses with the quixotic goal of providing conclusive answers to subjective questions. It’s not enough for me to opine on which professional athletes had bustworthy careers. I feel the need to come up with a definitive list of Top 10 Busts. As detailed in a previous post, my son and I developed an algorithm to rank the top 100 players in NBA/ABA history because the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team didn’t go far enough. Based purely on quantitative measures, my Top 10 ranking of all-time NBA greats consisted of:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  3. LeBron James (now ranked #2 after surpassing Kareem in career points)
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Wilt Chamberlain
  6. Tim Duncan
  7. Magic Johnson
  8. Kobe Bryant
  9. Shaquille O’Neal
  10. Larry Bird

While I consider MJ to be the NBA GOAT, there’s enough quantitative and qualitative support to argue for any of the top 5 from the above list. With respect to football, Tom Brady has separated himself from all other QBs to become the most logical choice as the NFL GOAT. At the same time, one could argue for legendary RB Jim Brown without sounding crazy. While Babe Ruth seems to be the most popular choice for MLB GOAT, there are too many other candidates (e.g. Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, etc.) to narrow the list. On the other side of the spectrum, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky has lapped the field with so many single season and career records to end any NHL GOAT debate.

It’s tough enough to distinguish between great athletes from the same generation, much less between athletes who never faced each other. For that reason, I contend that all-time greatness should be evaluated relative to the eras during which the athletes competed. One reasonably could suggest that Babe Ruth, George Mikan, Otto Graham or Ben Hogan wouldn’t have the same success if transported in a time machine to a current game or tournament. Still, they rank as all-time greats with unimpeachable credentials due to what they did relative to their competition.

For me, Jesse Owens is the Track & Field GOAT. Owens established his all-time greatness at the Big Ten Track & Field Championships in May 1935 during which he set four world records in a 45-minute span. Those records included:

  1. 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash.
  2. 8.13 meters in the long jump.
  3. 20.3 seconds in the 200-yard dash.
  4. 22.6 seconds in the 200-yard low hurdles.

His legendary status grew when he won 4 gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m, and Long Jump) at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. More impressive than these accomplishments, Owens transcended the athletic competition by winning in front of racist dictator (and arguable WOAT) Adolph Hitler. The American’s track star’s world record time of 10.2 seconds in the 100m dash at those Olympics stood for two decades. If transported to a modern day competition, he wouldn’t even get past a preliminary heat with his best time. Should that change anyone’s impression of his GOAT credentials? Of course not!

During her illustrious career, Simone Biles has done things previously though unimaginable. Like other sports, gymnastics has evolved and can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. Much has been said about the impact of technology across sports (e.g. better golf clubs/balls, “juiced” baseballs, more aerodynamic footballs, non-wooden tennis rackets, etc.). I have watched gymnastics long enough to realize that it has evolved as well (e.g., bouncy floors, different apparatuses, and better training). Importantly, I’m not trying to minimize Simone’s achievements. Instead, I’m trying to put them in perspective.


Relative to the GOAT conversation, there are 3 deserving female gymnasts: Larisa Latynina of Russia; Nadia Comăneci of Romania; and Simone Biles of the USA. In order to remove the recency and American bias, I’ll start with an anonymous evaluation. Specifically, the following table shows the number of Olympic and World Championship medals won by the three athletes.

Athlete Gold Silver Bronze Total
Gymnast 1 23 4 5 32
Gymnast 2 7 5 1 13
Gymnast 3 18 9 5 32
Based purely on the number of total medals won, Gymnasts 1 and 3 are in a dead heat. Then again, Gymnast 1 has more gold medals (23 vs. 18) so someone could reasonably argue that her résumé is more impressive. I usually would agree with this argument, but not in this case because Gymnast 1 benefitted from a change in the scheduling of international competitions. Gymnasts could only win a medal at the Olympics or World Championships every two years prior to 1978, but they now can earn these medals annually. The frequency of the Olympics hasn’t changed since then, but the frequency of world championships has. Specifically, they have been held:
  • Every 4 years from 1950-1978;
  • Every 2 years from 1979-1989;
  • Every year from 1991-1997; and
  • Every non-Olympic year since 1999.

Note: the Olympics and World Championships both occurred in 2021 due to the postponement of the original 2020 Tokyo Games.

In order to evaluate the different eras, I adjusted the previous table assuming the same frequency of world championships (i.e. every 4 years) for each gymnast.

Athlete Gold Silver Bronze Total
Gymnast 1 12 3 3 18
Gymnast 2 7 5 1 13
Gymnast 3 18 9 5 32

If it’s not obvious, Gymnast 1 benefitted from having the opportunity to compete in more world championships during her career. At a minimum, it’s reasonable to continue the conversation.


Going back to my nature as a crotchety old man, the Olympics were much better before professional athletes started competing in them. In this case, I’m not defining a professional athlete as someone who gets paid to play a sport. Instead, I’m defining it as someone whose ambition for an Olympic gold is a side pursuit during a hiatus from a very lucrative “day job.” I don’t mind if an Olympic ice skater, skier, swimmer, gymnast, or track & field athlete makes a living from their sport. However, I have little to no interest watching Olympic events involving the following athletes.

  • NBA players who measure success with jewelry on their fingers, not around their necks.
  • NHL players who’d rather hoist the Stanley Cup than see their nation’s flag hoisted into the rafters.
  • PGA golfers who want majors, not medals.
    • I’m undecided about LIV golfers because an Olympic gold might be more prestigious than any victory on their tour.

To be fair, I enjoyed following the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and NHL players at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. However, the novelty of having these professional athletes in the Olympics wore off a long time ago. Unlike the NHL, MLB fortunately never embraced the idea of taking a break to allow its top players participate in the Olympics. Therefore, I didn’t have to pretend to care about another event ill-suited for megamillionaires who pretend to care about bringing home the gold. To the extent the IOC wants to include sports such as basketball, hockey, baseball, golf, soccer, or tennis, it should consider limiting participation to “amateurs” who may have made money from their NIL but haven’t yet earned income from a professional team or league.


The “thrill of victory” or “agony of defeat” is elevated at the Olympics due to their infrequency. I can only imagine the pressure felt by athletes who wait four years to compete for their sport’s ultimate prize. Despite all the hard work and preparation, Olympic athletes also need some luck because their dreams can be impacted by things outside their control (e.g. boycott, global pandemic, etc.).

Physically and mentally prepared at the time, Simone Biles was very unlucky when COVID-19 caused a one-year delay in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In an interview on Sixty Minutes that aired several months before the rescheduled 2021 games, Biles acknowledged that the biggest setback involved her mental state because she pushed herself expecting the end to be so close. Her words proved to be prophetic given her mental collapse leading up to and in Tokyo.

Regardless of their sport, all-time greats are defined by what they do on the biggest stages. Despite being the most dominant player in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain often gets overlooked as the NBA GOAT because he only won two championship rings (versus 11 for Russell, 6 for Jordan, 6 for Kareem, and 4 for LeBron). Tom Brady has virtually every important NFL passing record, but he’s the GOAT because of his 7 Super Bowl victories. For this reason, each T10B algorithm used to rank players applies the most weight to winning titles. Based on that logic, it’s important to apply a higher weight to Olympics results for athletes whose highest achievement is winning Olympic gold.

While not nearly as sophisticated as the algorithms I developed for ranking football or basketball players, the following multipliers can be used to rank Olympic athletes within their specific sport.

Medal Gold Silver Bronze
  Olympics: All-around 20.0x 9.0x 6.0x
  Olympics: Team/Individual 15.0x 7.0x 4.0x
  World: All-around 8.0x 4.0x 2.0x
  World: Team/Individual 5.0x 3.0x 1.0x

In case you’re wondering, I designed this table specifically to evaluate gymnasts. At some point, I’d like to create medal multipliers for other sports as well as an algorithm to enable a comparison across sports. For instance, I would apply weightings based on the prominence of the sport (e.g. ice skating > ski jumping > curling) and medal winning opportunities (e.g. swimmers can win multiple medals while boxers can’t). For now, however, this is all I have.


As a reminder, here’s the total medal count for the three female gymnasts in the running for the title of GOAT.

Gymnast Gold Silver Bronze Total
Gymnast 1 23 4 5 32
Gymnast 2 7 5 1 13
Gymnast 3 18 9 5 32
The following table converts these medal counts into a single number under three difference scenarios.
Gymnast Gold Adj. [1] Worlds Adj. [2] Olympics Adj. [3] Average
Gymnast 1 132 72 202 135
Gymnast 2 51 51 126 76
Gymnast 3 122 122 260 168

[1] Gold Adjusted (Gold=5x, Silver=3x, Bronze=1x) – because gold is better than silver and silver is better than bronze.

[2] Worlds Adjusted – eliminates benefit from more frequent occurrence of contest after 1978.

[3] Olympics Adjusted – variable medal waiting based on: type (gold > silver > bronze); event (all-around > individual or team event); and venue (Olympics > Worlds).

Even though I calculated an average for all three methodologies, the Olympics Adjusted formula provides the best overall comparison. As such, I argue that Gymnast 3 is the GOAT. Relative to the three gymnasts, however, she’s probably the least well-known to most Americans. Enough suspense? OK, it’s time for the reveal.

  • Gymnast 1 is American Simone Biles.
    • No surprise there.
  • Gymnast 2 is Romanian Nadia Comăneci.
    • Perhaps, the best known foreign gymnast to most Americans.
    • Gained worldwide fame as the first gymnast to get a perfect 10 in an international competition as a 14-year-old at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
    • Cemented legacy by winning 3 gold medals (all-around, uneven bars, balance beam) and earning seven 10s during the ’76 Games.
  • Gymnast 3 is former Soviet Larisa Latynina.
    • Who? Don’t worry, you can blame your ignorance on the American media.
    • Despite what you usually see, hear or read, an American isn’t always the greatest at doing something.
Monday Night Football All-Time Commentators (1970-present) - ESPN Press Room U.S.
Don Meredith sandwiched between Howard Cosell (l) and Frank Gifford (r)
Thanks to former Monday Night Football announcer Don Meredith, I shouldn’t have to finish that sentence. For the younger generation, Meredith was the first in a line of former Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks (including Troy Aikman and Tony Romo) to become accomplished sports announcers. With respect to Simone Biles candidacy as the GOAT, she likely would have ended all doubt (including my own) IF the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were not delayed. BUT, they were. Based on her performance at the 2019 World Championships, she arguably would have earned at least 4 (team, all-around, vault, floor) and possibly 5 (others plus balance beam) Olympic golds in 2020. In that case, Biles would have finished her career with an “Olympics Adjusted” medal index somewhere between 267-278. That total would have been enough to surpass Latynina’s index of 260. Biles still could have reached that total IF she maintained her peak form for one more year. BUT, she didn’t. As a result, she may not have had a Merry Christmas.
So, what happened? I already argued that the one-year delay in the Olympics had an impact. At the same time, every other Olympian faced the same setback. Given the importance of mental toughness in any sport, it’s reasonable to consider the (in)ability to cope with a setback as part of the athlete’s legacy. While the delay proved to be an inconvenience, it certainly wasn’t insurmountable. From my perspective, Biles suffered from something that has plagued mere mortals since the time of the original Olympics in Ancient Greece: hubris.
Despite tremendous (and justified) egos, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady deflect any discussion about being the greatest to play their respective sports. At a minimum, they don’t seem to accept the title publicly. When asked if he’s the GOAT, MJ said,
I’m not here campaigning for the best player in the world or in history. I’m not saying that because everybody plays differently, in different eras.
When asked the same question, TB12 said,
I don’t agree with that, and I’ll tell you why. I know myself as a player. I’m really a product of what I’ve been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So, I’ve been very fortunate.
I’m not contending that Jordan and Brady don’t believe they’re their sports’ respective GOATs. Instead, they know enough not to make that statement publicly. In contrast, Simone Biles and/or her marketing team went the other direction with a not-so-subtle indication of their belief.
Biles wore a rhinestone goat on her leotard during the GK U.S. Classic gymnastics competition in May 2021
Simone Biles
Biles sporting the same emblem at the US National Championship in June 2021

When questioned about the emblem, Biles claimed that she started wearing it as a joke and then to annoy her haters. For an article in People, she said:

I don’t think of myself as the GOAT and that’s not why I wear the goat on my leo. It was kind of a joke in the beginning. I wore one in 2019 and it was just funny because the haters were so upset. What we did is to kind of tick them off even more. So I was happy because it’s like good, now you guys are annoyed because you’re annoying me.

Biles provided a more positive reason for the logo when interviewed for an article in Marie Claire in June 2021. Specifically, she commented:

Everybody can say you’re good, but once you acknowledge it, it’s not cool anymore. And I want kids to learn that, yes, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re good or even great at something.

I had a few observations after reading these quotes. First, I don’t get the joke when the potential GOAT wears a goat emblem. For literally any other gymnast in the world, wearing the emblem would be a joke. For her, it arguably served a dual purpose of inciting her detractors and creating a psychological advantage over her competition. Second, she used the pronoun “we” as if a team made the decision and not just her. Third, there’s a difference taking pride in being good or great at something versus promoting yourself as the greatest.


When I first saw the goat emblem on Biles’ leotard in 2021, I thought, “Wow, that’s bold!” I had seen Biles deliver for so long that I didn’t view it as a potential jinx. However, I started to get worried over time that she might have bought into all the hype from numerous media members calling her the GOAT. Specifically, I recalled a Sixty Minutes segment from earlier in the year which seemed premature. During the interview, Sharon Alfonsi effused:

Talk to anybody in the sport, nobody agrees on anything. But they all agree you’re the greatest. The greatest that’s ever been. The greatest that will be.

As someone who would rather underpromise and overdeliver, I wouldn’t have suggested going that route. Then again, Biles had no reason to think she would not deliver on her “promise” to do well enough at the Olympics to be considered the greatest female gymnast of all-time. I believe Biles when she said that she didn’t think of herself as the GOAT. Unfortunately, I fear her advisors thought differently and made recommendations based on their desire to promote a post-Olympic, all-female exhibition being marketing as the “Gold Over America Tour.” I’ll let you figure out the acronym used to advertise the tour. After hearing about the name of the tour, I realized her team may have failed her by setting her up to overpromise and underdeliver.

Prior to the rescheduled Olympics, I noticed an increased social media presence by Biles that could have negatively impacted her preparedness. Specifically, I came across a lot of promoted stories (aka click bait) highlighting her outfits or public outings with her boyfriend. I understood she deserved downtime whether shared privately or with the world. At the same time, the specific type of publicity seemed more suited for a Kardashian than an Olympic athlete getting ready for the big event.


As a huge Simone Biles fan, I wanted her to succeed in Tokyo. At the same time, I was worried about the excessive praise and hype as if the results were a foregone conclusion. In a New York Times article published shortly before the start of the Olympics, Juliet Macur wrote:

For her dominance, individuality and longevity in the sport, Biles, 24, has been compared to Serena Williams, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods. But the analogy minimizes her athletic brilliance because those competitors lose from time to time — and she doesn’t. Biles hasn’t lost an all-around title since 2013, when her smile glinted silver because she still wore braces.

In the article, Mancur also described Biles’ move from Nike to Athleta because the upstart women’s clothing company agreed to sponsor the post-Olympic, all-women Gold Over America Tour. Interestingly, the creation of that tour led to the cancelation of the post-Olympic tour that USA Gymnastics typically held for the top male and female gymnasts to earn some income and generate interest in the sport. When approached by some of the male athletes about their exclusion from her tour, Biles said,

Yes, I’m sorry. It’s not up to me for you to find or make money. That’s up to you and your agent.

I fully support and agree with that stance. However, I wonder how the media would react if the opposite were true with a dominant man requesting an all-male victory tour. That was rhetorical because I know the athlete would be blasted and a lawsuit would follow.


While not her usual dominant self in the qualifying round, Biles would have won two golds (all-around and vault) and two silvers (team and floor exercise) if everything stayed the same in the medal round. However, the “weight of perfection” presumably took over because she withdrew from all but one event (balance beam) as she lost confidence in her ability to perform certain moves without hurting herself. Biles won an individual bronze on the balance beam and won a silver in the team competition given her participation in the qualification round. Still, it was a major disappointment for the presumed GOAT.

No one could (or did) argue with Biles withdrawing from numerous events to focus on her mental health. However, there were differing views about the impact it would have on her legacy. The prevailing view was that Biles already was the GOAT and her ability to withdraw despite all the pressure put on her to perform added to her legacy. In contrast, I found myself agreeing with Dylan Hernandez who wrote the following in a Los Angles Times article.

Pressure is a fundamental part of sports. The ability to perform under duress is what sometimes separate the great from the good and professionals from amateurs.

To be clear, Biles can choose to not do that job. That’s her prerogative. It doesn’t make her any less of a person. But don’t pretend it doesn’t make her less of a gymnast.

The refusal to acknowledge this reality sends her the wrong message, that her worth is directly linked to her achievements. So accept her failure as a gymnast and embrace her athletic shortcomings, few as they may be. Let her know her value as a human being won’t be measured by her scores on the vault or floor.

Henry Cejudo, the Olympic Gold Medalist in 55KG Freestyle wresting at 2008 Beijing Games, also offered an interesting perspective when he said the following in a video posted to X.

People say, like, the media created her and, you know, they put upon this pressure. Not really, they only gave you a platform, a limelight. It’s up to you to believe it and to accept it. If you start to think you’re the GOAT and the greatest of all time, then that’s on you. It’s OK to strive for that, but if you’re going to go through that and tattoo a goat on your forearm [or sew it on your leotard], then you’re going to have to live with that.


Like many gymnastics fans, I am excited by Simone’s return to the sport she has dominated for so long. Even if she hasn’t earned it (yet), I believe she will qualify for and do well enough in the 2024 Paris Olympics to become the unqualified GOAT. Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that the future Disney movie won’t be even better. After all, I contend the modern-day American success story involves the initial rise (e.g., rags to riches, beating all odds), downfall (e.g. fall from grace, sense of human frailty), and resurrection. For now, I wish her the best no matter how it turns out.