Q&A: Simone Biles on the Tokyo Games in 2021, her new vault, using her voice, and more

The full interview with the four-time Olympic champion from the April 2021 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic virtual media summit

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

With just over 100 days to go until the Tokyo Olympic Games later this year, four-time Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles spoke to media Wednesday at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee's virtual media summit.

Below is the complete transcript from that press conference in which she discusses the possibility of continuing to Paris 2024 as a Team USA specialist, a new vault debut, her feelings during the one year postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games to 2021, and speaking out on issues in the years since the Rio Games.

Question: How are you feeling about your prep in this road to Tokyo?

Simone: Right now, you know, we're four months out. I'm feeling pretty good, pretty confident, and all of our training has geared us for this moment. So, I'm just super excited for the journey.

Q: What has it taken to get yourself back into for lack of a better term 'Games mode after a one-year postponement.

Simone: Yes, it's been tough. But during out time off, we still did Zoom workouts with our coaches, so we were still engaged. As soon as we got back into the gym, it was kind of like full speed again to try and get ready for this year's Games. It's been tough, but it's definitely been worth it. I feel like every athlete can say the same: we're not going to give up and we're going to keep striving for perfection. Hopefully, we get to show off our athleticism this year at the Games.

Q: We're quickly approaching the 100 day out mark [to the start of the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021]. In the mind of an athlete... does that mean something special or is it on your calendar just another day on the schedule?

Simone: It's crazy because to think about 100 days out, it is crazy. But then again, for us, it's just another day in training, one day closer. But 100 days still sounds so far away, but like three, four months sounds sooner. So, it's just so crazy, how you put it.

Q: Have you started to think about what life will be like post Tokyo, if this is going to be your final competition or if it's not going to be your final competition, what do you think your competitive future might hold after this Olympics?

Simone: I knew you were going to give me a hard question, but honestly, right now my main focus is the Olympic Games and then after I have a tour that we've put together, so I'm really excited to go around the U.S. with all the girls and do that thirty-six city tour and then afterwards, I'm not so sure because [my coaches] Cecile and Laurent [Landi] are from Paris and so they've kind of guilted me into at least being a specialist and coming back [for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games]. But, you know, the main goal is 2021 Olympics first, tour, and then we'll have to see.

Q: What went into your decision - I know it was hard to wait another year - what were the pros and cons as you pondered keeping training?

Simone: Well, there were... I feel like there were pros and cons to both of them. But the main thing was just like trying to stay healthy another year, trying to have your mental game up another year, it's another year on the body. It's just a lot to think about, but then at the end of the day, it's like we worked so hard. We're not going to give up. We're going to keep striving for this goal that all the athletes have kind of put in their head is the 2020 Olympics. And once it was postponed, it's like I've gone too far to give up now. So, we're going to take a little bit of a break. And we did. We quarantined for seven weeks before we got to ease back into the gym. And once we did that, we still were doing one workout a day before we could go back to two workouts and that honestly kind of helped keep my spirit up and think that it was going to be OK. Now, obviously, I'm still a year older, but it's just like it's tough, but it's been my goal for a while. And I wasn't ready to hang that up just because of the quarantine and the postponement.

Q: There's a lot of G.O.A.T. discussion these days and I wanted to know where you think you placed in it and if it bugs you when you're not included in the discussion?

Simone: Definitely doesn't bug me. I think the only thing that bugs me is when they don't include women, because then again, I feel like it's a little bit sexist because we worked so hard to put our marks in the sports that we've done so that in itself is kind of irritating. But other than that, I feel like maybe for gymnastics I am kind of one of them, or at least everybody says so. So, it does it is nice to have that stamp for gymnastics and to have that out there.

Q: What are the ways that you feel like you've changed both as a person and as an athlete in the last five years?

Simone: Goodness. I feel like one, I'm not a little girl anymore. I feel like I've really found my voice and kind of use that for good in the world and on social media platforms. So that's been a big plus. And then the deciding factors after Rio: I moved out, I live on my own now. I have a house. I have a dog. I feel like I've just grown and had so much growth over the years that's why I am the young woman I am today. Obviously, gymnastics has helped shape me and the people around, but it's been a big change. But I'm really excited about life and what's to come and how I've changed and evolved as a person.

Q: What do you think sparked your increased comfort level in using your voice to talk about issues in society? And with the USOPC now opening the door for athletes to protest in whatever form they might want to at trials, is that something that's ever crossed your mind or that you've considered?

Simone: If you were to ask me years ago, I would say no, because I was just a little bit nervous of what Martha [Karolyi] or other people would think. But now that I've kind of found my voice, I feel like not only can it benefit me, the team and the people that I'm supporting and advocating for, but it kind of helps everybody and people get to see a little bit of who you are just besides an athlete and what you stand for. And I think that's really neat. But I've thought about it a little bit because as soon as they announced it and I was like, oh, my gosh, they could do so much with the leos and kind of make a statement, obviously, for good. So, it's been really exciting, but it wasn't easy to find my voice or to put it out there because it's a little bit scary about what people are going to say, because at the end of the day, a lot of people are like, oh, you're an athlete, but we're not just athletes were people, too, and we have a right to speak up for what we believe in.

Q: What do you think these Games may represent in this environment, when people have been apart for so long, and what it might mean to get so many athletes back in one place to kind of competing as normally as they possibly can?

Simone: I always feel like the Olympics are world peace, and that's when everybody just comes together and no matter the differences any of the countries have, everybody's rooting for each other and want the best for the athletes, for your country. And I think that's really neat in itself. But it'll be very, very strange because for a year now and some change, we've been kind of separated and only doing certain things. So, it'll definitely be weird. Obviously, we'll be in a bubble, but I think it'll be some excitement. People are ready for athletics and sports to come together again, and it'll be really exciting and it'll be like nothing they've ever experienced before. And it's going to be really special.

Q: What has been the best part of this time off? And what has been the most surprising part of your time off?

Simone: So, after Rio, I actually took about a year and a half off, so that was definitely the most time I've ever had off. But for the quarantine, the seven weeks off, I already knew that if the Olympics were to be postponed, I was going to take about three months off just to kind of gather my thoughts and protect and take care of my body, my mind, my spirit. But then what's been really exciting is being able to experience life with my family, my friends, getting to go to my boyfriend's [NFL] games. And I told them I've never been to so many games in a season in my life because usually I'm just so busy all over the place. But in the beginning of quarantine, it was really, really hard because me and my family were really tight knit, and my parents wouldn't let me over to their house for months. And so it was just kind of like the dogs and I chillin at home and I would take them on so many walks. I think they were so sick of me because I was just so bored. And I think that was the hardest part of being alone during that time.

Q: You talked about some of the tougher aspects of quarantining through the pandemic. What did you learn about yourself in that time that you didn't know before? And have you already been vaccinated and or do you plan to be vaccinated? Any hesitancy, any thoughts on working that into your training?

Simone: Yes, so I feel like the one thing I learned about myself is I really can't sit still. I have way too much energy. I couldn't sit through all of the Netflix shows. I was just so bored so I would clean a lot. And I found that was kind of my saving grace, is like tidying up and being kind of a perfectionist inside the house.

And then on vaccinations, I have not been but once it's my time. I would love to be vaccinated. And I think it's good for athletes to become advocates for that so we can stay safe and healthy and we can have a good Games. And I think it'll be really exciting once the time comes, so definitely approve of being vaccinated.

Q: What role have your sponsors and partners played during quarantine in the pandemic and how they were able to help support you both during the break in competition and also just kind of allowing you to focus full-time on your training and just be a full-time athlete?

Simone: My partners have been one of the most amazing aspects about quarantine. They never gave up. They were always checking in to see how my mental health and just how I was doing as an athlete and most importantly, as a person to make sure I'm still keeping my spirits up high. And then we tried to do some quarantine Zoom calls just to check in, see how we're doing, what the status was on the Games and all that. But it was just so sweet to know that they're not just partners, they've become family, at that point. And that was just so special to me as to getting to know them on that level because before I was just so busy. So obviously you check in occasionally, but to have them really be in the know and be family, it was awesome.

Q: Before the Olympics postponement, there was so much uncertainty. How do you feel about the Games postponement - were you worried that they were going to be pushed back again? Are you anxious with COVID and everything? How do you feel?

Simone: Yes, I actually tweeted yesterday, and every time Tokyo Olympics is trending, my heart drops just because I don't know what it's going to be. I saw a little while ago, they said it wouldn't be postponed again. It would just be canceled because you can't keep pushing it back, pushing it back. And also, there is the Winter Olympics in '22, so that can't interfere with each other. So, I was really nervous. But recently, whenever they announced it was only going to be Tokyo and Japanese spectators, that kind of eased my mind so that there is less of a chance of Covid coming in and going out of the village and just in the city in general. So, they have to make sure they're keeping their city safe and the people there safe. So, I felt pretty good about that. So, I feel very confident that it's going to happen and it's going to be a good Games.

Q: What will it be like for you to not have family in the stands?

Simone: [I've] Definitely never competed without my family there. So, I know it was really saddening for them to hear the news, but at the end of the day, we have to do what's right and protect ourselves. And then we again have to protect Tokyo and their citizens. So, I fully understand and agree with their decision, but I know they're going to have a party here at the house... Well, not like a party, but like a watch party here at the gym and at the house with close family. So, they'll be there in spirit. It's going to be really hard. I feel like we might need to practice at a couple meets coming up, but they're not going to let that happen. So, it'll definitely be different. I've already joked about how my mom's going to try to get a credential or be media or something like that. She's going to do something to be there because I've just never not had my family. And I think it's going to be really, really weird. But we're going to have so much support there in spirit. So, it'll be good.

Q: Walk us through what is your training prep like? What's your diet and your exercise? It sounds like it's probably pretty intense if you're doing two workouts a day.

Simone: Yes, it is pretty intense, I definitely don't miss a nap during the day or I'm very grumpy and I kind of can't function. So first just starts at 7:00 a.m. and then we go to 10:30. And that started off with warm up, then conditioning and then we do beam and bars twice a day and then either in the morning we do vault. And if we do vault in the morning, then floor in the afternoon. 10:30, I head home. Usually have a quick lunch, chicken, salmon, whatever that may be. I don't know, I don't have a crazy, strict diet. I kind of eat whatever I want, just in proportion but definitely on the leaner and healthier side. And then I take a shower, I try to be down for my nap at 12, wake up at 1:30 and then I'm back at the gym at 2 to 5 or whenever we finish work out. And then on Monday and Wednesdays I get therapy after with our trainer here and then that's kind of how it is. Then, Thursday we have a half day, Saturday we have a half day. So at the end of the week it's about thirty two to thirty four hours. But since we're gearing up competition season, we're doing more routine work.

Q: You personally have gone through so much turmoil with USA Gymnastics. How is it different now? What's the what's the vibe? What's the environment like after getting through all that?

Simone: Yeah, you know, it's definitely different. They have precautions put in place to try to better the athletes’ safety whenever we're traveling, whether that's at camp with the team or around the world with USA Gymnastics. So, it is very, very different than what I've experienced before. So, you know, once they have precautions put in place, you feel a little bit safer. But then at the end of the day, we still need to know and have an independent investigation. So, for some of us survivors [of Larry Nassar's abuse], it is disheartening to know that that hasn't happened. And some of the survivors are still out there competing, and I feel like they just want to sweep it under the rug. But that's not how to go about it. I feel like in gymnastics, you get deductions for stepping out of the line and all this stuff and they just get slaps on the wrist and keeps going. It's like it just doesn't disappear. After I step out in three nights in a row, they're like, ah, she's going to step out. We're not going to deduct for it anymore. So, I just feel like there needs to be consequences for their actions. But I'm sure it's coming.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on your Yurchenko double pike. I know you talked about it with Texas Monthly a little bit. I was wondering where you are in the decision process for that, whether you'll debut it at the Olympics or if it'll come earlier? And also, you mentioned the policy about the one touch warmups not being allowed at event finals, so I was wondering what your opinion is on that policy?

Simone: Yes, so hopefully, well actually, I know we will definitely debut it before the Olympics just because we need to see, get out there and kind of control my adrenaline once I do that before the Olympics so we can perfect it in competition before that. And then one touch warmup, we don't get a one touch warmup out there right before we go. That's why you have to see us line up and then go to the side. You can go to the back gym and warm up if you're later in the lineup. We do get to warm up before the audience comes in. We do get to warm up on the equipment before, but there is no one touch. So I think that is kind of dangerous given everything that everybody's doing. And I'm not sure why they do that or why that's the rule. But it is a little bit crazy to me because we are throwing some very high-level skills and it is dangerous. But I probably wouldn't do it for an event final unless I was later in the lineup just so we could go to the back and warm that up.

Q: What is your competition schedule going to be like before nationals and if you'll be doing the all-around before nationals?

Simone: Yes, I will be doing all-around before nationals. we have coming up in about seven or eight weeks, I believe. I'll be doing all around at Classics and then again at Championships and then obviously at trials. And that's kind of my competition schedule. It's kind of changed throughout the year because I was supposed to do Tokyo Cup, which was going to be in March, and then it got postponed and then it kind of got changed to an Olympic test event. And then that recently got canceled because if I were to have done that, I would have skipped Classics because the timing coming back with the time change, it would have been too close to Classics. So, my competition schedule is Classics, Championships and then trials.


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