The top of 2020 was shaping up to be a banner year for Simone Biles. Widely looked at as the best women’s gymnast of all time, all eyes were on the 23-year-old reigning world champion to see if she’d repeat her stellar performance from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Then, the coronavirus happened, and the International Olympic Committee was forced to postpone the global event until 2021.
Biles told the Today show via Skype on Wednesday morning that the postponement was “the right decision.”
“We need to make sure that everyone in the U.S. and around the world is healthy and safe,” she said.
But she admitted she cried upon first hearing the news: pushing back the Olympics could have major ramifications on her career, and on her mental health. Namely, having to work with USA Gymnastics, the organization she says failed to protect her and other gymnasts from its predatory team doctor, Larry Nassar.
In a phone interview with The Washington Post, Biles was candid about her concerns “dealing with USAG another year.”
“It’s almost as if I feel like, since I have another year, something else is going to go wrong. Or [USAG] is going to do something wrong again,” she said. “Maybe it’s the year for them to get it right.”
Biles, like many other of the world’s top athletes, was training intensively with the expectation she would compete in three months. While she has no doubt she’ll be able to maintain her physical fitness levels, she’s concerned about the mental toll the delay will take.
“It’s just the mental strain of going in the gym day-in, day-out, day after day putting in that work going toward that goal,” Biles told the Post. “I feel right now we’re kind of emptying our gas tank. I was so ready to have that experience in three months; now it’s pushed back another 15 months. That takes a toll on your mind.
“I’m still struggling with that,” she continued. “Can I actually do it? I’m not sure. The physical part is not going to be the problem.”
It’s sometimes easy to forget how exceptional Biles is as an athlete: like many of the GOATS, she makes the impossible look effortless. But she’s working against the clock: most elite female gymnasts age out of the sport post-puberty. Biles will be 24 by the time she finally competes in the next Olympics—well past what’s considered the physical peak for athletes in her sport.
Biles is the clear exception, with many expecting her to perform as well or better than she did in 2016. This year’s Olympics was also going to be special for Biles because she looked at it as “the year to do it for myself and nobody else.”
“I did it for a lot of other people in 2016 because I wanted to please other people. At the end of the day, I shared that with a lot of people,” said the five-time Olympic medalist. “I feel like this time around, it’s just for me.”
But more than that, Biles was looking forward to competing life after the Olympics—which will also be delayed. The Summer Olympics are now scheduled to take place in Tokyo on July 23, 2020.
“I was ready to see who I was as a person rather than as an athlete,” she said. “What other adventures I wanted to take on. To see what my other skill sets were.”