Simone Biles has overcome more in her 24 years than most will in a lifetime.
The gymnastics superstar began her life in and out of foster care. Publicly, her life stabilised as she worked her way toward being one of the greatest female gymnasts in history, winning 25 medals at the world champions and seven at the Olympic Games. (Her total of 32 ties her with Soviet great Larisa Latynina for second all-time, only Vitaly Scherbo has more at 33.)
But behind the scenes, Biles was a victim of sexual assault by former U.S. gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. The resulting trauma, she says, should have ended her career.
“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 6 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.”
Instead, after winning four gold medals and a bronze at the Rio 2016 Games, Biles returned to competition in 2018 just months after coming forward publicly to disclose her abuse. She won six medals at the world championships that season - one in every medal round. A year later in 2019, she came home with five golds, including a record fifth win the all-around.
With sky-high expectations, Biles made it to a second Olympics at Tokyo 2020. But once there, her mind and her body stopped connecting, a phenomenon gymnasts call the 'twisties.' She was forced to withdraw from the team, all-around and two days of apparatus finals.
“Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can’t see shit, 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," Biles said, explaining what it was like to suddenly find herself lost in the air performing elements she had once made look so easy. "I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up — lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?”
Biles is still sorting through the events of Tokyo, telling Olympics.com last week that she felt she hadn't yet had time to process it all.
"Sometimes it’s like, yeah, I’m perfectly okay with it. Like, that’s how it works. That’s how it panned out," Biles told New York magazine. “And then, other times, I’ll just start bawling in the house.”
The seven-time Olympic medallist's Facebook documentary series 'Simone vs. Herself' is also giving the world and up-close-and-personal look at what Biles went through at the Tokyo Games.
"I've been having these mental blocks in the gym recently, it's not been fun. It's been scary. I'm getting lost in my skills. I'm so prepared that I don't know if I'm overthinking," Biles says in the opening moments of the first of a two-part finale released Monday (27 September). "It's getting to the point where it's getting dangerous."
Part two of the show's finale will be released Tuesday (28 September) on Facebook Watch.