If you would have asked Simone Biles a few years ago whether she would be comfortable using her voice and her platform to speak up for what she believes in off the gymnastics mat, she would have said she was “a little nervous.” After all, to this day, people still tell her that as an athlete, she shouldn’t speak about anything other than her sport.
But Biles “has had so much growth over the years,” and that includes gaining the confidence to use her voice, she said Wednesday at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) media summit.
“Now that I 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,” Biles said.
At 24 years old, Biles is already arguably the greatest gymnast of all time—and she is definitively the most decorated American gymnast ever, with five Olympic medals and 25 world championships medals.
She has become omnipresent, through her recent series of Uber Eats commercials with Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness and as one of the faces of Nike
Bubbly, engaging and poised, it’s easy to forget how young Biles still is, and the fact that when she broke out at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning four gold medals, she was only 19 years old.
But a lot has changed in the last five years. “I feel like I’ve really found my voice and used that for good in the world on social media platforms,” Biles says. She also has a house and a dog now—not to mention her relationship with Houston Texans player Jonathan Owens.
And as we approach the 100-day-out mark for the Tokyo Olympics, after weathering a year of the pandemic and the postponement, Biles is feeling dialed-in and ready to claim her spot at the Tokyo Games.
“I’m feeling pretty good, pretty confident,” Biles said of her training, which currently includes two sessions a day on the beam and bars. “All our training has geared us for this moment. I’m just super excited for the journey.”
Suddenly, after waiting for what seemed like forever for the postponed Games to arrive, we’ve hit warp speed. When you think of being 100 days away from the Olympics, it still feels pretty far away, Biles says. But when you think of it as three months, it feels very soon.
Between then and now, Biles’ competition schedule will ramp up. She will make her 2021 debut on May 22 at the U.S. Classic, followed closely by the U.S. Championships the first week of June and the U.S. Olympic trials on June 24-27.
Ahead of the trials, Biles confirmed she will debut a Yurchenko double pike, which coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi have been helping her dial in. Biles would become the first woman to attempt the element in competition. “I need to get it out there and control my adrenaline,” Biles said.
Biles has never competed without her family in attendance, and she admits that she and her loved ones were saddened by the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee’s decision to ban overseas spectators from attending this year’s Games in the interest of public safety during Covid-19. “But at the end of the day we have to do what’s right and protect ourselves and we have to protect Tokyo and their citizens, so I fully understand and agree with their decision,” Biles said.
As she has been strengthening every detail of her routine on the mat, Biles has also been clear about establishing her identity off it. From pushing back at media headlines that have sought to define her in context to the abuse she suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar to calling out interim USA Gymnastics president Mary Bono for criticizing Nike’s affiliation with Colin Kaepernick, Biles made it clear that she would not allow herself to be defined solely by what she does on the beam or the bars.
“It wasn’t easy to find my voice or put it out there,” Biles said. “But we [athletes] are people too and we have a right to speak up for what we believe in.”