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The Schmooze

Simone Biles’ Historic New Floor Routine Has A Jewish Background

This week, Simone Biles made history. It’s a sentence that journalists may soon tire of writing — the 22-year-old Olympic gymnast is simply one of the most extraordinary athletes to have ever lived.

At the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City this weekend, she won six U.S. all-around titles, tying for the most in women’s gymnastics history. She became the first woman to land a double-double dismount off the balance beam. And she became the first woman — and one of the only people, ever — to do a triple-double during a competition floor routine.

If it sounds jargon-y, watch her change her sport in her Sunday night routine. She’s the kind of athlete who can make you weep with wonder:

Please forgive your friendly Jewish publication if the proud Jewish dad in us feels compelled to point out the sliver of Yiddishkeit in all this — the brassy, thrilling jazz sting that greets Biles as she takes to the floor? That’s a remix of “Big Spender,” a hit from the 1966 Broadway musical “Sweet Charity.”

The song is by Cy Coleman (given name: Seymour Kaufman,) the legendary Jewish composer who was nominated for a whopping 19 Tony Awards in his life, and won five, as well as a handful of Grammy and Emmy Awards. The ecstatic, sensuous music that underscores Biles’ latest triumph was one of Coleman’s most memorable tunes — he also wrote the Frank Sinatra hit “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “Hey, Look Me Over,” which Lucille Ball made popular.

Coleman wrote “Sweet Charity” with Jewish lyricist Dorothy Fields and Jewish playwright Neil Simon. “Hey, Big Spender,” remixed with a techno-beat for Biles’ unreal performance, is, of course, about propositioning men.

And that’s a little Jewish history to go with your double back somersault with three twists in two flips.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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