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Coaching a ‘once-in-a-100-years champion’

Publication date : 01/11/2018

Simone Biles goes into Thursday’s All-around final with even her coach saying “it is humanly almost impossible to raise the bar higher”.

How do you coach a once-in-a-generation gymnast? That is the happy challenge facing French-American Laurent Landi, one half of the duo charged with steering superstar Simone Biles to ever greater feats.

Over the course of the women’s qualifications and the women’s team final Landi’s student has topped the apparatus standings six out of eight times, scoring more than 14.000 points on every routine, bar the Balance Beam during team finals. Three times the 21-year-old has breached the 15.000 mark barrier and she qualified for Thursday’s All-around final with a score of 60.965, a full 4.500 points ahead of teammate and 2017 All-around world champion Morgan Hurd.

It is no wonder coach Landi is enjoying himself in Doha.

“She is one of a kind and maybe we only have one Simone in the time we do Gymnastics,” Landi said. “She is definitely special, very, very special and it’s a joy to be able to experience that as a coach because it is a completely different working experience.”

“We mature all together through this experience and we learn a lot.”

Landi and his wife Cécile Canqueteau-Landi took on the roles of coaching the now 11-time World and four-time Olympic champion Biles on her return to Gymnastics in October 2017. The pair quickly realised it was no ordinary job.

“You need to adjust your coaching to an extreme because it is a whole package, it’s not just one side or the other,” Landi explained. “Champions like this they just come once every 100 years. You just need to really adjust yourself to it and do the best of your ability to make them perform.”

Landi, who focuses on Uneven Bars, Vault and Floor while his wife takes charge of the Balance Beam and choreography, is particularly enjoying one aspect of Biles’ Doha 2018 performances.

“The change is that she is becoming very good on the Bars right now, so I am very, very pleased with that,” he said, highlighting that the Uneven Bars was the one final Biles did not qualify for at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In her two Uneven Bars routines in Doha, Biles has twice scored 14.866 – a score bettered only by the 15.066 Belgium’s Nina Derwael recorded during qualification. If Biles starts to dominate this apparatus too, then Landi knows his role becomes simply about maintaining her focus and allowing her to do what she already does way better than anyone else.

“All the other events we are raising her level of Gymnastics to a point where it is getting crazy almost to think she can do even harder (skills),” he said. “So we are going to really have to work on her consistency maybe, because from where she is right now it is humanly almost impossible to raise the bar higher.”
While naturally keen to deflect all attention and praise on to Biles, Landi does reveal that the new 6.4 difficulty vault – set to be named ‘The Biles’ in the Code of Points – which the Rio 2016 Olympic Vault champion revealed during qualification was his invention.

“All the technique is me,” he said. “And I had to work hard to put this into her head.”

Once in her head, skills tend to stay there. Starting with the All-around, Biles is as firm a favourite as you will ever see to add at least another four gold medals to her collection, with the Uneven Bars a possible, or even probable, fifth.

Despite this and very aware of the fortunate position he is in, Landi is adamant his job is not quite as easy as people think.

“No, no, everybody would do it otherwise,” he laughed. “I enjoy it, but it’s very stressful at the same time.”