Simone Biles: ‘I feel like I am in better shape than in Rio’

It's more about faith than fear for four-time Olympic gymnastics champ Biles

By Scott Bregman

Simone Biles is about to enter back into competitive action for the first time since Rio 2016.

Before her return at the US Classic in Columbus, the four-time Olympic champion spoke exclusively to the Olympic Channel.

Biles took a year-long break from gymnastics before beginning work with new coach Laurent Landi last October.

So what’s changed since we last saw her?

The Simone Biles making a comeback is a very different woman to the one who took Rio by storm.

The 21-year-old describes how she is no longer scared of showing the world who she really is.

Simone Biles: The Exclusive Interview

You’re just a few days out from your first competition since Rio, how’re you feeling?

I think right now, it’s a couple of emotions: I’m anxious, I’m nervous, but overall, I would say I’m pretty excited.

Have you thought about what it’s going to be like when you get to Columbus for the U.S. Classic? Surely, you remember the attention around Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas when they first returned to competition 2015.

I guess I have some ideas of what it will be like, especially in the arena and how the crowd will react. I think it’s going to be a little bit crazy and very intense. But, really, just a lot of excitement – which will be good. A lot of good energy.

When did you decide you wanted to come back? What is the motivation?

I knew after 2016 I was going to come back, but we just didn’t know when because I was traveling a lot, doing appearances, doing stuff with my sponsors, which was absolutely amazing. I had a great time. I had a great year off.

So, we just had to kind of buckle down and decide, “OK – these months are open. Let’s leave them open and start training and kind of ease back into it.” At least, that’s what I thought. But then, we kind of hit it full speed and got right back into the rhythm of training.

How has the rhythm of training been different? When you were first getting started with Laurent Landi [Biles’ new coach] you were worried about early training.Still early mornings, but I’m used to it now. We still end at pretty decent time in the afternoon which is always good because you can go home and relax – you don’t have to go straight to bed and then, wake up in the morning for gym.

But the pace has been pretty good. I enjoy it.

Have you thought about your legacy? What does it feel like when people talk about you as the GOAT?

I feel like it’s still a little bit weird – because each generation has the greatest of the time. So, you can’t really compare because the generations are so different.

Like, Aly [Raisman] set the path off for us. Then, there was Nastia [Liukin] before her; Carly [Patterson] before her. So, it’s all so, so different, but it’s exciting to share those moments with each other.

The world got a first look at your training earlier this year in April. How has training been going since then?

Training actually has been going very well. I’m very pleased with how it’s going.

I feel like going into a competition – besides it being the World Championships or Olympic Games – this is the most prepared I’ve been for just like a Classics, which is good for me. I feel very confident moving forward with the whole entire process so I’m pleased.

Comeback complications

In the span of about 10 days, you posted on your social media about having the twisties [mental block on turning elements in gymnastics], having a shattered toe and then doing your first full floor routine. What was going on in each of those?

So, I did have the twisties. One day, I came in and decided I forgot how to do gymnastics. You know, that’s great. And I could not twist on floor or on beam. For my beam dismount, I just like wouldn’t do it, and we couldn’t figure out why.

So, then, you know, you take it step-by-step. You start going in the pit and that was pretty hard. I had this happen a little bit before Rio just because I had a little bit of anxiety, I was just really anxious.

It was a lot of emotions leading up to it, I was kind of thinking too far ahead. Like, oh, my gosh, the meet’s coming. I’m not ready, but, then again, we still had a couple months.

You had originally said you were only going to do a couple of events at Classic. Now, you’re doing all four. What’s behind that decision?

Earlier, thinking back, we were kind of trying to pace ourselves – Laurent, Cecile [Landi] and I – so we were trying to see what the best option would be. And at first, they were like you know what, you can start off with two events. We’ll do bars and beam, and we’ll see how that goes.

We didn’t know if floor and vault would be ready at the time to do the all-around. They were like, there’s no need to rush it, you’ll be fine, especially for [National] Championships.

And then, we started training, getting into the rhythm again. The vaults were fine, and then, the floor came along. So, we just decided why not do four, get out there, see how it goes. Kind of do a test run of all four since I haven’t competed in a real long time.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Simone Biles of the United States competes in the Women's Vault Final on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

What would be a successful outing for you this weekend at the U.S. Classic?

I think for me, it would be just handling my nerves in a good way because I am very anxious of how I’ll do it. I used to be able to calm down my nerves very well, so I’m hoping that has stayed intact.

And then just go out there and do what I do in training and hopefully hit four-for-four. Because even if I fall, it’s not like I will fail myself but at least I tried.

So basically, just to get back out there, get back into the swing of things in competition and just have fun.

What’s changed?

What new elements will we see from you at Classic?

On floor, you need a two salto pass so I do front full to full-in. I will do for my first pass a double-double layout. And then, the rest is “normal.”

The rest is “normal,” but that means that you’ll be dismounting with a tucked double-double?

I am dismounting with a tucked double-double.

That’s not normal…

No, I didn’t think it was possible either when Laurent came up with the idea. I kind of looked at him like he was crazy. It’s come along pretty well so far, so I’m even shocked by myself.

I’m like, whoa, that’s kind of crazy. I’m pretty pleased with that, we’ll see how it goes, see if I can handle the nerves.

For beam, instead of a front tuck, I add a front pike in. And then, the rest is basically the same as Rio.

And then bars is where it gets a little bit newer. I do Shaposh[nikova] connected to a straddle Tkatchev, and I also added in a Shaposh[nikova]-half and a double-double dismount tucked.

And on vault, we’ll see the Amanar?

No, we’re actually going to do the front one-and-a-half, the Cheng.

What is your new floor routine like?

My floor routine has a little bit of a Middle Eastern feel to it since at the end of the year Worlds will be in Qatar. So that’s kind of how we set that. It’s still fast, upbeat, you can clap along to some of the parts, which I’m really excited about, get the crowd involved. I haven’t figured out if it’s a serious routine or if it’s fun.

I haven’t even decided if I’m going to smile yet, but I’m sure it will spark and it will be like that. It’s nothing choreographed so we’ll see how it is.

But I’m pretty pleased with the routine. Dominic [Zito] did it again so I’m excited about that routine.

More faith than fear: the new Biles

Do you think you’re in better shape than you were in Rio? That you’re a better gymnast than at this point than you were in Rio?

You know, that’s funny because a lot of people have said I look in better shape than I was in Rio. And I think that’s actually true.

I feel like, I’m in better shape and I feel better just because coming off that whole entire year [2016], you have so much stress and you’re worried about your body and I feel like now, I have accepted what my body looks like, who I am.

I think I am in better shape and have a better mindset: it’s just like kind of go out there, have fun, try not to worry about the expectations where before it weighed so heavy on me.

You tweeted Sunday night about having more faith than fear. What was behind that?

I just feel like now I try to enjoy myself more instead of thinking about what everyone else thinks and all the expectations and trying to be a person that I’m not.

So, I really want them to get to know the real Simone without anyone trying to shape or conform me to the society today. And trying to be like, you can be yourself and be proud of who you are.

And so lately, instead of laying in bed, I’m like, you know what, let’s go to the beach. Let’s do this on my off time instead of focusing so much on gymnastics, I’ve tried to live my life as well.

On that same note, how different is your life – your whole life – this time around? You have a boyfriend. You’re very public about going out, about going to the beach. It just seems like a totally different life as whole than you were living in the lead up to Rio.

I think before we were so terrified to show our personal life because if we messed up at a competition people would be like, “Oh, she was at the beach, she was here.” And our lives were so focused on gymnastics, that I found myself just kind of rotting at home and not being happy and then going into practice and dreading practice because I was so tired.

I was like, if I’m still going to be tired and then do recovery, why not go to the beach on a Sunday? I had to find what fueled me instead of completely drained me.

So, I feel like hanging out with my friends or doing normal people stuff, also fills my tank so that I have more energy rather than just laying at home all day, thinking, “Oh, I have practice in two days. Oh, I have practice on Monday.”

So, I think it was finally realising that we are human, as well, and we do have lives outside of gymnastics. It’s OK to be who you are and show the world that our lives aren’t just about gymnastics.

I think we even get confused whenever we were younger, that we were forced [to think] that our lives were all about gymnastics, but that’s not necessarily true.

See more on Simone Biles and gymnastics at the Olympic Channel