(NEW YORK) — Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist gymnast, said she should have quit competing “way before” the Tokyo Olympics, where she had to withdraw from several events due to mental health struggles.
“If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team,” Biles said in a new interview with LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images). “I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years.”
“It was too much,” she said. “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.”
Biles, 24, was on track at this summer’s Olympics to win an unprecedented six gold medals during the Games, with the aim of also becoming the first woman since 1968 to win back-to-back titles in the all-around.
After stumbling on a vault landing in the team competition final, Biles withdrew from three of her event finals, citing her mental health.
Earlier this month, while testifying before Congress, Biles tied her performance in Tokyo to her struggle to recover mentally after being abused by Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor who is now serving up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women.
In the interview with New York Magazine, Biles said she is back in therapy and calls her recovery from the abuse she suffered a frustratingly long “work in progress.”
“You get surgery, it’s fixed. Why can’t someone just tell me in six months it’ll be over?” Biles said. “Like, hello, where are the double-A batteries? Can we just stick them back in? Can we go?”
Leading up to the Tokyo Games, Biles said she “didn’t feel as confident as I should have been with as much training as we had.”
Once there, Biles said she faced what in gymnastics is called “the twisties,” when one loses sense of where they are in the air or in their routine.
“If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued,” Biles told the magazine. “But it was more than that.”
“It’s so dangerous,” she said. “It’s basically life or death. It’s a miracle I landed on my feet. If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed that vault, I went and told my coach: ‘I cannot continue.’”
Biles faced criticism from some when she withdrew from her Olympic events, but she was mostly applauded for listening to her body and prioritizing her mental health.
To those critics who said she went to Tokyo and quit, Biles compared what she went through to suddenly waking up blind one day.
“Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight,” she said. “One morning, you wake up, you can’t see … 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?”
In the nearly two months since she returned home from Tokyo, Biles said she has had time to come to terms with what happened, though she said it still feels in many ways like she “jumped out of a moving train.”
“Everybody asks, ‘If you could go back, would you?’ ” Biles told New York Magazine. “No. 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.”
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