She had regained her composure, wiped away the tears and had a firm voice as she spoke the words that still resonate today. “We are not just athletes. At the end of the day, we are human and sometimes you just have to take a step back,” said Simone Biles in the catacombs in August 2021
the Tokyo Gymnastics Arena after their withdrawal from the Olympic Games. “Mental health comes first.” The gymnastics queen took herself out of the game to protect herself. And in doing so, it also gave the topic of mental health a platform that superstars such as swimmer and record Olympic champion Michael Phelps had already prepared in the past through their open approach to it – but which is still very small.
Biles withdrew for two years before returning nationally in August and is now returning to the international spotlight. The World Championships from September 30th to October 8th in Antwerp not only mark the comeback of the greatest female sports star of the moment and perhaps the best gymnast in history, but also the return to a special place in her career and the chance for further milestones their biography.
“Back to the place where it all began. See you in Belgium!” Biles recently wrote on Instagram, dispelling any remaining doubts as to whether she actually feels ready for the big stage. Biles, who has had a double name since April after marrying professional footballer Jonathan Owens. The Texan started her sport as a six-year-old and then, ten years later, amazed the gymnastics world at her first international competition: in 2013, she won gold in the all-around and on floor at the World Championships in Antwerp. It was the start of an extraordinary career, the birth of a superstar.
Twisties and the “Fight Against Demons”
In the coming years, the 1.42 meter tall Biles took the world of gymnastics off its hinges and – also through new elements she created – to a new level. Talented, strong-willed, powerful, creative and with a charisma that is second to none. Biles is many things. She quickly made it clear what she wasn’t: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps – I’m the first Simone Biles,” said the American at her Olympic debut in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, where she won four gold medals and one Won bronze. A superstar, admired and loved.
Simone Biles has been impressing the sports world for ten years
At her sixth World Championships she could now achieve something historic with another medal. To date, Biles has collected medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships a total of 32 times, putting her on a par with Larissa Latynina from the former Soviet Union. But the American isn’t talking about anything like that at the moment; perhaps such superlatives are far away from her thoughts at the moment. After all, it was the pressure that made them back down in Tokyo. “I truly feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders right now,” she said at the time. Now she talks about the small steps she is taking. “And that’s why my personal goals remain private.”
Review, 2021 Olympics in Tokyo: Biles arrives as the top favorite and the biggest female star of these games. Hardly anyone doubts that she will win again; she qualifies for all the individual finals. Then comes July 27th, the final of the team all-around competition, the Americans start on vault. But Biles, the team’s reliable great, had problems while warming up on the equipment and ultimately made a mistake in her first appearance in the finals of these games. A blackout, as she later explains: “I didn’t know where up and down was in the air.” The gymnasts call this kind of thing twisties, mental disorientation disorders. Biles is withdrawing from the current competition and is also canceling her participation in the first individual finals. “I don’t trust myself the way I once did,” she says. That poses a risk. “It’s hard when you’re wrestling with your own head,” she adds, openly speaking of a “battle against demons.”
The sport that once brought her joy was now sapping her strength and beginning to destroy her. Rather, the surrounding circumstances. “I wanted these Olympics for myself,” she says, “but I came here thinking I’d keep doing it for other people. Doing what I love has somehow been taken away from me in order to please other people.” At the end of the games, Biles returns and is celebrated for bronze on the balance beam. Bronze, a medal color that would otherwise have had the sports world asking, “What’s wrong with Biles?” She seemed invincible.
Biles sought therapeutic treatment
It was a short return. After games, Biles submerged herself, taking the time she needed. There was a lot going on in the life of the exceptional athlete, from an early age. Her mother was overwhelmed by drug and alcohol problems at the time, and her grandparents took care of the little girl and adopted her. Later, she rose to superstardom and became the first African-American woman at the top of gymnastics.
In the wake of the abuse scandal in US gymnastics, Biles made it public in 2018 that she was one of the many victims of former team doctor Larry Nassar. She was also among hundreds of gymnasts and their parents who sued the doctor and advocated for the rights of the victims. This took a “heavy emotional toll”. “It was too much. But I wasn’t going to let him take away something I’ve worked hard for since I was six years old,” Biles told New York Magazine in September 2021. So she suppressed what happened for as long as “my mind and body allowed me to.” Her conclusion: She should have stopped long before Tokyo.
Aim high – that was always the direction Biles took. At some point it was too much
A period of recovery and rest followed; Biles underwent therapeutic treatment and continues to receive this help. She fought the twisties with numerous repetitions in training – and with the trust that her coach, teammates and herself placed in her. “I think it was worth it for me to just be there and put in the effort. As long as I showed up another day and continued my work, it became less and less,” she said on US television on ABC. And that she pays more attention to herself and treats herself more carefully. “It’s about being conscious, going to therapy and making sure everything is okay so I can do my best in training and be a good wife, a good daughter, a good friend.”
In Antwerp, Biles wants to show a new maximum difficulty
When she finally felt ready to return to competition, it was as if she had never been away: Biles won the floor and balance beam apparatus finals and the all-around at the US Classics in Chicago in early August. The spectators celebrated them. “After everything that happened in Tokyo, the amount of love and support I received on Twitter, on Instagram and in the hall was really great for me,” she said afterwards: “It warms my heart.” Three Weeks later, Biles also secured the all-around title at the US Championships in San Jose and thus qualified for the World Championships for Antwerp.
In Belgium she now wants to crown her comeback with a new jump combination: a Yurtschenko followed by a double somersault backwards. If she shows the element without falling, it will be recognized by the world association Fig and named Biles II, after she had already shown another then new jump in 2018 that bears her name. “Rated at 6.4 points, it would be the hardest jump in the scoring guidelines for women,” said the world association. To be included in the points classification, new elements must be registered with the world governing body and then “without falling in a qualified, prestigious international competition such as the World Championships,” according to the figure.
Biles recently showed her new jump combination at the national World Championships, but she overdid it and only received 14.550 points. It should be perfect at the World Cup.
And then? Is Simone Biles focused on the 2024 Paris Olympics? She herself answered this question cautiously after the US Championships: “At the moment I would say that this is the path I would like to take.” step by step.