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Simone Biles admits she ‘should have quit gymnastics way before Tokyo’

Simone Biles has admitted she ‘should have quit’ gymnastics long before the Tokyo Olympics, saying the trauma of being sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and then watching his trial play out in media was ‘too much.’   

The 24-year-old gymnastics legend was the only Nassar survivor to represent Team USA at the postponed 2020 Summer Games. She was expected to take home five gold medals, but she ended up withdrawing from four out of five event finals. 

‘If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team,’ Biles told New York Magazine. ‘I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. It was too much. 

‘But I was not going to let him take something I’ve worked for since I was six years old. I wasn’t going to let him take that joy away from me. So I pushed past that for as long as my mind and my body would let me.’  

Candid: Simone Biles, 24, admitted in a new cover interview with New York Magazine ‘should have quit’ gymnastics long before the Tokyo Olympics

Biles, who covers the latest issue of the magazine, was in an unusual situation at the Tokyo Olympics, where athletes had to deal with the stress of COVID-19 testing and breakthrough cases in addition to the pressures that come with elite competition. 

She also didn’t have her loved ones or even a crowd to cheer her on due to the pandemic, and she recalled feeling ‘more and more nervous’ leading up to the competition. 

During the qualification round, she made significant and uncharacteristic errors. For the first time in her life, her body was refusing to cooperate. 

A few days later, Biles fumbled her vault at the women’s gymnastics team final. Instead of doing two and a half flips, she only managed one and a half before landing and nearly falling backward. 

The athlete explained that she suffered from the ‘twisties,’ mental block that causes gymnasts to lose their muscle memory and feel like they are lost in the air.  

‘It’s so dangerous,’ she said. ‘It’s basically life or death. It’s a miracle I landed on my feet. If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed that vault, I went and told my coach: “I cannot continue.”‘ 

Surprising: Biles, who was expected to lead the U.S. to gold in the team final, withdrew from the women's team gymnastics finals after flubbing a vault, the first event of the competition

Surprising: Biles, who was expected to lead the U.S. to gold in the team final, withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics finals after flubbing a vault, the first event of the competition

Scary: The athlete explained that she suffered from the 'twisties,' a mental block that causes gymnasts to lose their muscle memory and feel like they are lost in the air

Scary: The athlete explained that she suffered from the ‘twisties,’ a mental block that causes gymnasts to lose their muscle memory and feel like they are lost in the air

Hard to handle: 'It’s a miracle I landed on my feet,' Biles said of the terrifying vault. 'If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher'

Hard to handle: 'It’s a miracle I landed on my feet,' Biles said of the terrifying vault. 'If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher'

Hard to handle: ‘It’s a miracle I landed on my feet,’ Biles said of the terrifying vault. ‘If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher’

The experience terrified Biles to the point that she no longer cared about competing and winning medals. She dropped out after her vault, which was her first and only event in the competition. 

‘My perspective has never changed so quickly from wanting to be on a podium to wanting to be able to go home, by myself, without any crutches,’ she said.  

Biles came back to the stadium to cheer on her teammates — Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, and Grace McCallum — who won the silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee. 

The gymnast recalled texting her teammate MyKayla Skinner, who was headed home to Arizona the next morning after failing to qualify for any individual finals. She told Skinner, 24, she would have to cancel her flight and replace her as an alternate. 

Biles returned to competition in time for the balance beam final and ended up winning a bronze medal. She now has a total of 32 Olympic and world championship medals, making her one of the most decorated American gymnasts of all time.

While her decision to withdraw and focus on her mental health was praised by many fellow athletes and supporters, there were critics who accused her of ‘abandoning’ her teammates and quitting because she fumbled her vault. 

Biles told New York Magazine that she would have continued to compete if she ‘just was having a bad day’ and ‘still had [her] air awareness.’ She compared the mental block to suddenly losing your eyesight. 

Good sport: Biles withdrew from four out of five women's gymnastics event finals at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health, but she kept cheering her teammates on

Good sport: Biles withdrew from four out of five women’s gymnastics event finals at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health, but she kept cheering her teammates on 

Comeback: The gymnast returned to competition in time for the balance beam final and ended up winning a bronze medal

Comeback: The gymnast returned to competition in time for the balance beam final and ended up winning a bronze medal

‘Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight,’ she said. ”One morning, you wake up, you can’t see s**t, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight. You’d be lost, wouldn’t you? 

‘That’s the only thing I can relate it to. I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up — lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?’

Biles explained that she has had highs and lows following the Olympics, saying she struggles with her last-minute decision to pull herself out of the competition.  

‘Sometimes it’s like, yeah, I’m perfectly okay with it. Like, that’s how it works. That’s how it panned out,’ she said. ‘And then other times I’ll just start bawling in the house.’  

However, she noted she doesn’t have any regrets about what happened.   

‘Everybody asks, “If you could go back, would you?”‘ she said. ‘No. I wouldn’t change anything because everything happens for a reason. And I learned a lot about myself — courage, resilience, how to say no and speak up for yourself.’

Biles publicly broke her silence about Nassar’s abuse in January 2018, revealing in a powerful tweet that she was one of his many victims.  

Difficult time: On September 15, Biles testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI's botched probe into Nassar's sexual abuse

Difficult time: On September 15, Biles testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s botched probe into Nassar’s sexual abuse

Heartbreaking: She broke down in tears as she detailed how the FBI failed her and others who were sexually abused by the pedophile doctor

Heartbreaking: She broke down in tears as she detailed how the FBI failed her and others who were sexually abused by the pedophile doctor

Support: Biles was joined by fellow star athletes and Nassar survivors McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols (left to right), who all testified at the hearing on Capitol Hill

Support: Biles was joined by fellow star athletes and Nassar survivors McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols (left to right), who all testified at the hearing on Capitol Hill

Nassar sexually abused more than 150 women over the course of his 30-year career. He was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in 2018.  

Biles suffered from depression and went to therapy while training for the Olympics. She thought she was ‘good enough to go’ to Tokyo and brushed off the recommendation that she return to treatment after. 

‘They were like, “Yes, you’re good enough to go and do your stuff, but you have to come back.” And I was like, “Nah, I’m good,”‘ she recalled. 

Biles now knows that psychological trauma isn’t like a physical injury. There is no set time in which it will heal. She has been busy rehearsing for her upcoming Athleta’s Gold Over America gymnastic tour, but she is no longer in training. 

‘This will probably be something I work through for 20 years,’ she said. ‘No matter how much I try to forget. It’s a work in progress.’

Disgraced doctor: Nassar sexually abused more than 150 women and was sentenced to 175 years in prison

Disgraced doctor: Nassar sexually abused more than 150 women and was sentenced to 175 years in prison 

On September 15, Biles joined fellow star athletes and Nassar survivors McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to testify before the Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s botched probe into the disgraced doctors sexual abuse.     

During her testimony, Biles said she was failed by the FBI, USA Gymnastics (USAG), and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) in their handling of the case. 

‘I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table and the countless others needlessly suffered under Nassar’s guise of medical treatment — which we continue to endure to today,’ she said.

‘We have been failed and we deserve answers. Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports.’ 

Biles told the committee about the toll the abuse had taken on her over the years, including her struggles at the Tokyo Olympics.   

‘As the lone competitor in the recent Tokyo games who was a survivor of this horror, I can assure you that the impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten,’ she said.

‘This meant I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story for another 365 days.’

The athlete said she felt the ‘burden’ most when she traveled to Tokyo without the support of her family amid COVID-19 restrictions. 


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