Simone Biles and the extraordinary: What it's like to coach 'a once-in-a-lifetime talent'

Simone Biles and the U.S. team will compete for the first time in Tokyo early Sunday (2:10 a.m. ET) in the team qualifications. AP Photo/Ashley Landis

"When she landed, it was like, 'Oh, my god, that just happened.'"

Cecile Landi remembers exactly how she felt the first time Simone Biles attempted the Yurchenko double pike vault to a mat last summer. Every person in the gym at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, stopped to watch.

"Every coach, every gymnast -- we knew we were witnessing history and something we are probably never going to see again," says Landi, 41, one of Biles' coaches and an Olympic gymnast who competed for France in 1996.

The same could be said of the Tokyo Olympics. Eight years into her senior elite career, Biles makes history every time she steps onto a competition surface.

If she adds two medals of any color in Tokyo, she will become the most decorated Olympic gymnast in U.S. history. She is favored to win five. She is already known around the world as the greatest in the sport -- because of the titles she has won and the extraordinary skills she has pioneered.

If she lands the Yurchenko double pike in Tokyo -- which she did easily in Thursday's podium training -- it will become the fifth skill to bear her name.

Biles and her U.S. teammates compete for the first time in the third subdivision of team preliminaries (Sunday at 2:10 a.m. ET), in which they will vie for one of eight spots in Tuesday's team finals and for places in the all-around and apparatus finals.

Biles, Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum are expected to lead the U.S. to its third straight Olympic team gold easily -- and then continue their medal haul throughout the Games.

In preview of all that is to come, Landi, who along with her husband, Laurent, is part of the U.S. coaching team in Tokyo, tells us what to expect from Biles over the next two weeks and what it's like to coach one of the most unique talents in the history of the sport.

It will be a long time before we see another woman attempt this vault in competition -- if it ever happens.

"It took a long time for Simone to become comfortable doing it and it is still a vault that is very dangerous. A coach will have to find an athlete that is physically and mentally extremely strong, and once you have that combination, it's doable. But I do not see anyone right now who will be able to successfully compete it. I honestly don't know if I will ever see it again."

And her double-twisting double-back dismount off beam -- debuted in 2019 and also called the Biles -- is just as incredible.

"When I was competing, if you told me someone would do a double-double [dismount] off the beam, I would tell you, 'Yeah, right.' Those were barely performed on the floor in my day. One on the beam was unthinkable."

It's one thing to land a seemingly impossible skill in the gym. It's another altogether to compete it.

"Every skill Simone does for the first time in competition, it's more special than any other time she does it. When you go to a competition, the springboard is different than the one you use in training. The arena lighting is different. The mats are a little harder in competition than in training because they're newer. That first training pass is [used] to get adjusted to all of that. She is so good at adjusting to what is needed."

When she is learning a new skill, the coaches stay calm in the gym -- then get fired up on the car ride home.

"[Laurent and I] know what she is doing is crazy hard, but we don't want to make her feel this way and lose confidence. So, we make the training as normal as we can. Then afterward we sit down and look back and say to each other, 'That was crazy.'"

Her mark on the sport is immeasurable.

"Simone is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. I hope I am wrong and we get to witness someone else like Simone, but realistically we had Nadia [Comaneci] in '76, who changed the sport of gymnastics, and now we have Simone. So maybe in 45 years we will see it again? I will be quite old then. I try not to think that way and just enjoy working with her and witnessing the hard work and crazy skills she is doing."

A lot of people are still surprised by the amount of work she puts in every day.

"When we went to trials, Kelli Hill, who is an experienced coach, came to me at the end and was like, 'I've never been in your group and I am amazed how hard she works and her attitude. She's such a great person, she's fun, she works hard. She is pushing everyone and encouraging people. I've never seen anyone like her.'"

She is pushing the limits of the sport because she puts in the work.

"People think everything comes so easily for her. At one point, it does, because she put in hours and hours of work, and that is the reason. That is one thing our athletes at the gym are seeing every day. She works. So they know if they want to be 1 percent like her, they are going to have to work, too."