Simone Biles said Thursday that she is “still scared to do gymnastics.”
“I don’t twist,” she said. “I do double layout half outs, which is my signature move on the floor, but that’s never affected me. But everything else just, like, weighs so heavy, and I watch the girls do it and it’s just, it’s not the same.
“To do something that I’ve done forever, and just not be able to do it because of everything I’ve gone through is really crazy, because I love this sport so much,” she added with visible emotion. “But it’s hard. I’m sorry. And I don’t think people understand the magnitude of what I go through.
“But for so many years to go through everything that I’ve gone through, put on a front, I’m proud of myself and I’m happy that I can be a leader for the survivors and bring courage to everybody speaking up,” she continued. “So I’m happy to be a voice for them. But we go through our own things. It’s hard. The twisting, once I got back, will come back, but I’m still scared to do gymnastics.”
A large part of what Biles has gone through and which she says added an enormous weight to her psychological burden was the trauma of being sexually abused by then-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. She then became a central figure in the fallout of a scandal that included revelations of both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the FBI having been made aware of allegations against Nassar but failing to protect the athletes.
Biles and other prominent gymnasts have spoken out against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and she was among a group that testified to Congress last month.
“I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured — before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse,” Biles told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as she fought back tears. “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
Biles said on “Today” of that experience: “To go through something like that, and to be a voice for all of the survivors and people who want to come forward and talk about their stories, it’s really inspiring. But it’s hard that I have to go through it, because, again, people form their own opinions and I don’t really get to say what’s going on.”
A four-time gold medalist at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro whose performance there earned her greatest-ever acclaim, Biles stunned the world in Tokyo when she withdrew from the women’s team event, which led off the gymnastics competitions.
Biles also bowed out of every individual event except the balance beam. She earned a bronze medal in that discipline, as well as a silver after her fellow Team USA members finished second in the team event.
“I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years,” Biles said last month. “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.”
While Biles did receive criticism from some who felt she let down her teammates and her country, she also got an outpouring of support from athletes and many others for her decision to go public with her mental health struggles.
Asked on “Today” if she ever wondered what might go differently if she had a “redo” of her experience in Tokyo, Biles replied: “I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I think everything happens for a reason.”
In the wake of Biles and other Tokyo Olympians sharing their mental health concerns, officials with the USOPC said this week they would do more to assist their athletes in that regard during February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Noting that there will be more of the pandemic-related restrictions for Olympic participants that marked the Summer Games this year, USOPC sport psychologist Sean McCann said, “Certainly, from the athletes’ perspective, Tokyo had some very unique challenges that I have never seen before, and I’m sure Beijing will continue that as well.”
In an appearance later Thursday on MSNBC, Biles reiterated that “not doing any twisting” in her floor routine for the tour “takes the fear factor out of it.”
“But it’s super exciting,” she added, “especially to perform in front of a crowd again, since we didn’t get that opportunity in Tokyo.”
As for what advice Biles might offer anyone who feels something is amiss, she said: “I would start off by saying that it’s okay to not be okay. I support you. You’re welcome on any of my platforms.
“I know it’s a scary route to take, but go get the help.”