Star gymnast Simone Biles, whose projected dominance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics has been hampered by mental health issues and who has not competed since, may be planning to return a year before the Paris Olympics.
Biles, 26, is listed among the participants in the US Classic, scheduled for Aug. 5 near Chicago, a warm-up competition for the national gymnastics championships that will be held Aug. 24-27 in San Jose, California.
Her entry came without fanfare. It’s uncertain if she can recapture the form that earned Biles four Olympic golds, and seven overall, including the all-around title at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
Many in the sport wondered if Biles would retire from competing after the Tokyo Olympics, where she withdrew from most events due to an intellectual disability, and began her life outside of gymnastics. After many years of trying to meet expectations and please the audience, she was looking forward to starting a new chapter. This spring, she married Jonathan Owens, a defensive linebacker with the Green Bay Packers.
But other gymnastics experts suspected that Biles might try to return to competing on vault at least, which in some ways requires less training time than other events. Her entry into the US Classic may indicate that Biles feels she is still a force in national and international gymnastics, although USA said that registration for the event “does not guarantee participation.”
Biles’ inclusion in the list of entrants, along with past champions and current contenders, does not firmly announce her intention to compete in Paris, but it does make it possible. Her coaches – Laurent and Cecile Landy – are French, and she has previously said that it would be an honor to win a medal for them in their home country.
“We’re not making comments on her return to the US Classic other than we’re very excited about her and taking it day by day,” Cecile Landy said in a text message. “No pressure. Just enjoy the experience! “
In Tokyo, Biles was expected to win at least three individual events as she attempted to become the first gymnast to repeat being an all-around Olympic champion in over half a century. She was highly promoted as perhaps the most anticipated star of those games, but she took on an inordinate amount of pressure at the event. At the time, she was still dealing with the trauma of being a survivor of a sexual assault scandal that rocked the sport.
Biles was among the hundreds of gymnasts and other athletes who fell victim to Lawrence G. Nassar, the former national team physician. She and others have publicly criticized USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee in ways that break with the sport’s traditions that encourage athletes to remain silent during competition. Shortly after the Tokyo Games, she was also among the gymnasts who testified before Congress about the FBI’s mishandling of the case.
Once the Tokyo Games started, the stress of it all caused her to lose her ability to locate her spatial awareness in the air, a potentially dangerous condition known in gymnastics as “twists”.
She withdrew from the team finals and did not compete in the individual all-around competition. Biles said at the time that she was shaking and unable to nap, described herself as not being in the proper “head space” to continue and concerned with injuring herself. “It’s annoying when you’re fighting with your head,” she said.
She remained determined, though, and on the final day of the gymnastics competition in Tokyo, Biles gathered her composure and won a bronze medal on balance beam with a modified routine. “I didn’t expect to get a medal,” she said at the time. “I was going over there to do this for me.” “Having another chance to participate in the Olympics means the world to me,” she added.
While Biles has faced some criticism for withdrawing from several events in Tokyo, she has been widely embraced for her candor in discussing her mental health and acknowledging her vulnerability.
Along with other athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps, tennis player Naomi Osaka, figure skater Gracie Gould, and basketball players DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, Biles rejected the long tradition of stoicism in sports and represented a cultural shift in willingness to speak publicly about anxiety, depression, and stress.
Belloc, president of Barnard College in New York (and now president of Dartmouth), a cognitive scientist who studies athletes, entrepreneurs, and students and why they succumb to stress, said of Biles during the Tokyo Games: “I applaud the fact that she was able to make sure she wasn’t in a good frame of mind.” And back off. What a hard thing to do. There was a lot of pressure to keep going. And she was able to find the strength to say, “No, that’s not right.”
The willingness of Beals and others to speak up, Belloc said, confirms that mental health issues affect everyone.
Juliet McCorm Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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