Simone Biles is the latest sporting star to receive the prestigious MARCA Leyenda award, a prize that honours the top legends from the world of sport.
After collecting the award and showing it to the next generation of gymnasts at a gym in Spring, Texas, the seven-time Olympic medallist spoke exclusively to MARCA about what happened at Tokyo 2020, her future plans and much more. Here comes the full interview with Simone Biles in the original English, while you can also watch along via the above video
How do you feel after everything that happened in Tokyo? How does it feel not competing, with people understanding you don’t have to do it?
“It kind of feels nice, it’s definitely a weight off my shoulders. But, everything that happened in Tokyo I believe there’s a reason that that transpired. I’m getting the correct help that I need, but it definitely feels better to be back here in the US, surrounded by my family and my friends.”
How difficult was it for you to take that decision in Tokyo?
“It was honestly really hard. It’s something I never planned or would have thought of in a million years, so to have that happen was so crazy. But, to have the girls’ support and my coaches’ support meant the world to me. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but everything happens for a reason and I think there’s a lot of greatness that came out of that.”
How do you remember the seconds before you had to say ‘I need to stop’?
“It was kind of a whirlwind of emotions, like ‘oh my God, what’s happening because I’ve trained five years for this?’ So, I was really sad, but I had to do what was right for the team and I knew that was the correct decision, but also what was right for me and my mental wellbeing.”
Your teammates immediately hugged you when you told them. Did that comfort you in that moment?
“It did comfort me because those girls mean the world to me and we’ve been through so much together. But, it also kind of broke my heart that I had to walk away from them and not compete with them. But, to know that they had my support, hopefully they felt that with me just being on the floor.”
Are you still scared to do gymnastics?
“Yes, some of the skills which I twist a lot on and flip a lot on, I am really scared to do just because of everything that happened. But, [my coaches] are really great every time I come into the gym if I want to play around. They make sure I’m doing all the proper steps, so they definitely make me feel a lot better.”
What are you prouder of, your medals or the lesson you gave the world in Tokyo?
“Most definitely the lesson that I gave the world in Tokyo, because nobody would have ever thought that would happen but everything that happened because of that has brought real good attention to mental health and the awareness that it brings.”
You were one of the images of the year in world sport and that was without competing. Are you proud of everything that you generated afterwards?
“That was the craziest thing for me, how much talk and buzz there was around my name even though I wasn’t competing. So, I am really proud that people are taking it more seriously. But, obviously, I wish I could have gone out there and done a little bit more. But, with the cards I was dealt I’m not mad at the results.”
You’ve said that people don’t understand what you’ve been through all these years. Can you explain a little bit more so that they can understand?
“Everybody just looks at gymnastics at the magnitude of just what we do in the gym and what the results are, but they don’t understand I’ve been battling anxiety, depression and mental health issues over the years, around the topic of Larry Nassar and the sexual abuse cases and I’m still trying to work through that myself. To just put on a brave face and go out and compete, people expect a little bit too much with everything that we’ve been through. Then there’s the weight of USA Gymnastics and having to be a voice for that and stand up for all the girls. It’s just the craziest thing. With everything we’ve gone through to this point, I feel like I should have given up way before I did, so I look at how far I’ve come with everything that happened.”
You’re one of the sports stars to have spoken about mental health, but not the only one. Why has the issue of mental health become so important now and why was it so hard before to talk about it?
“I think it cost so much because everybody thought of us as entertainment and they feel entitled to our work and [wanted us to] just go out there and put on a brave face and compete, but now you have these sports figures and heroes standing up for themselves and saying ‘I’m not doing this competition, I don’t get why it has an effect on you guys when I’m really the one that’s being affected’. To have that topic come to the forefront is really great, but it’s sad that it’s been silenced and forgotten for so many years and not as cared about. But, luckily we’re bringing more attention to that.”
In recent months, we in the media have spoken a lot about what happened in Tokyo and the trial of Larry Nassar. Are you tired of all this noise besides the sport?
“Yeah, I definitely think there could be a better light shined on the sport because it’s a very unique and beautiful sport. But, anything to get the buzz going and for them to feel relevant, they’ll just say anything, no matter if it hurts anybody else. So…”
Given the cases of abuse in gyms, do you consider yourself lucky given the coaches you’ve had, with Aimee Boorman first and then the Landi couple afterwards?
“I wouldn’t necessarily use the word ‘lucky’, because I think that’s stretching, but I think I’ve been very blessed with the coaches that I’ve had throughout my career. When I was with Aimee, we started from the bottom, so we were never introduced to that toxic culture because she wasn’t an elite coach. I was her first elite gymnast. So, she wasn’t as aware of that toxic culture going on. Then, Cecile and Laurent came from France. We train very hard and we’re proud of what we do and I think it’s very important. I feel like they’re there not just for our gymnastics, but for us as humans. I think that’s why our relationship has worked so well. So, I’m very blessed with the coaches I’ve had in my career.”
Was it in your plans for Tokyo to make the Yurchenko double pike that you made in the trials, and you are the only woman who has made that jump?
“Yeah, we really wanted to go out there and compete in Tokyo, but then we had to think of risk vs reward and which competition we were going to do that in because they’re all very risky. So, we wish we could have competed with it, but then, with some of the competitions, we didn’t know which one we would compete it at. So, it’s ok.”
How has the ‘Gold Over America’ tour helped you to recover from everything that happened over the last few months?
“I think it brought a lot of excitement and happiness to me to kind of end on that note, rather than in Tokyo. So, the ‘Gold Over America’ tour was definitely one for the books. I think the audience got a lot out of it as well, because they didn’t get to see us compete prior, so to go to those events and see us all having fun, I think it was really great for them to see that.”
Do you have any plans for what’s next in your career?
“What’s next in my career right now is I’m obviously on a break. So, we have to see. I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the sport. Right now, I think it’s just relaxing taking quality time with family and with friends and just being normal for once.”
What about Cerebral? You’re just starting to work with it, so is this the next step for Simone Biles?
“Yes, yes. Being an advocate for Cerebral has been amazing. I love whenever I have therapy lessons because I feel like it really does help me. Everybody is different, but being an advocate and being their impact chief officer is top of my list.”