RIO DE JANEIRO • Women's gymnastics is chock-full of obligatory elements - on the vault, uneven bars and balance beam. But the floor exercise is the closest thing to a blank page on which athletes can express their personalities.
Simone Biles of the United States wrote the final entry to her Rio Olympics diary on Tuesday, pouring out her heart in a floor exercise that thrilled an adoring audience, and earned her a score of 15.966 and a fourth gold to go with the bronze she claimed on the balance beam the day before.
With it, Biles is now the fourth female US gymnast to win five medals in a single Olympics, joining Mary Lou Retton (1984), Shannon Miller (1992) and Nastia Liukin (2008).
A three-time world champion in the floor exercise, Biles was joined on the podium by US captain Aly Raisman (15.500) who took silver and Britain's Amy Tinkler (14.933) in third place.
A day after a wobbly performance on the balance beam ended the American's hopes of leaving Rio with a record haul of five golds for a female gymnast, she was back to her hip-shaking best.
Tinkler felt that there was no doubting who was the star of the show.
"Simone's an incredible gymnast... it's just amazing to be up there competing against her," she told reporters.
She looked unusually serious when she was first announced to the crowd. Was there something a little forced in that smile to the judges, that flash of teeth?
"My legs felt like rocks," she admitted later, "but I've done floor routines like that before so I wasn't nervous about it."
She had chosen her most difficult routine here - a start value of 6.9 - and performed it cleanly apart from one moment where she was briefly left standing, a little awkwardly, on one leg.
A sultry routine full of hip-swinging moves to samba music had the Brazilian spectators on their feet, as Biles flew high into the air to execute her trademark element, a soaring double layout with a half-twist and a blind landing.
She performed the move nearly perfectly, ending it with a stag leap, which she had left out of her performance in the team event but added for the individual all-around.
Cries of "oohs" and "aahs" accompanied each of her complex tumbling passes and she drew gasps of admiration as she balanced her entire body weight on her right toes while spinning around twice and had the audience roaring their approval as she bounced her bottom off the floor to strike her final pose.
The ear-to-ear grin, which had disappeared on Monday after she ended up with bronze on the beam, was back on show again and Biles gave the crowd a thumbs-up as she waited for her score.
It not only earned her a fifth medal at her debut Games, it was also the highest of her four floor performances over the past 10 days.
The 19-year-old team, all-around, vault and floor exercise champion became the first woman in 32 years, and the fifth overall, to win four golds at a single Games.
"It's very crazy. To think what I've done, it's been an amazing experience and I don't think I could be more proud of myself," Biles said.
So was she disappointed on missing out on the outright record?
"Your first Olympics you walk away with five medals, that's not tough at all," she replied. "Especially four being gold, that's just unheard of. I'm very proud."
The Soviet Union's Larisa Latynina (1956), Hungary's Agnes Keleti (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romania's Ecaterina Szabo (1984) were the only other women to have four golds at a single Games.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN