The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Simone Biles says she ‘should have quit way before Tokyo’

Simone Biles is participating in the Gold Over America Tour. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
3 min

Simone Biles said she “should have quit way before Tokyo” rather than trying to power through the Summer Olympics.

In an interview with New York magazine, Biles revealed that the reasons she dropped out of most of her events were far more emotionally complex than a case of the “twisties,” the sudden loss of spatial awareness that is terrifying for a gymnast who is in the midst of a dangerous leap when it strikes. Even now, she says, her recovery remains “a work in progress.”

“If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team,” Biles said. “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.”

The mention of Nassar is a reference to the sexual abuse she and more than 160 other gymnasts experienced for years from the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, who was convicted in 2018. Along with McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who also were abused by Nassar, Biles recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s handling of claims against him. Allegations were first brought to the FBI in 2015, but a 2021 report by the Justice Department inspector general said the agency “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies.”

The gymnast told lawmakers on Sept. 15 about the failings of the FBI’s handling of the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by coach Larry Nassar. (Video: Reuters)

Biles’s emotions were on display on Capitol Hill, just as they were in Tokyo, where she was also dealing with the unexpected death of her aunt during the competition and the intense pressure that comes with being labeled the greatest of all time. She withdrew during the team competition and from the all-around and four individual events but left Japan with two medals, a silver in the team competition and a bronze in the balance beam.

Simone Biles to Congress: ‘I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system’

“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,” Biles said.

Her stunning decision elevated a conversation about mental health that was begun by tennis star Naomi Osaka in the spring. No longer was Biles able to simply push past what she was experiencing.

“If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued,” explained Biles, who is participating in the Gold Over America Tour, in which she and other gymnasts will travel to 35 U.S. cities to celebrate women in sports and attempt to inspire youngsters. “Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can’t see s---, 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 said she still processes what happened at the Olympics, a whirlwind under any circumstances, and some days are easier than others.

“It’s like I jumped out of a moving train,” she said. “Everybody asks, ‘If you could go back, would you?’ … 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 is in therapy and is not training at the moment.

“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.”

More about the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics have come to a close.