Simone Biles on pushing herself to compete: 'I should have quit way before Tokyo'

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Simone Biles is getting candid about the Summer Olympics, sharing that she "should have quit way before Tokyo" and opening up about the role that the abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar played in her mentally challenging days.

"If you looked at everything I've gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team," she said in an interview with The Cut, sharing that Nassar's relevance in the media played a big part in holding her back. "It was too much. 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."

Simone Biles gets candid about her gymnastics career. (Photo: Getty Images)
Simone Biles gets candid about her gymnastics career. (Photo: Getty Images)

Prior to the Olympics, Biles had spoken about the responsibility that she felt to perform as a member of the U.S. Gymnastics team after the organization had failed to protect athletes from sexual abuse, including herself. She even told Glamour magazine that despite wanting to give up, she was inclined to stay with the organization to serve as a reminder of the work that needs to be done to improve its abusive culture. Still, she wouldn't have imagined the toll that the pressure would have on both her body and mind when it came to her Olympic performance. 

"It was hard to be in the gym mentally some days," Biles said, sharing that she had been attending therapy to work through those challenges. When it came time to head to Tokyo, she felt she was prepared. "I'm good enough to go," she recalls telling her therapist. "And they were like, ‘Yes, you're good enough to go and do your stuff, but you have to come back.' And I was like, 'Nah, I'm good.'"

Still, Biles felt a build-up of anxiety as it came time to compete. After her performance on vault and her decision to not continue competing, she assures it wasn't just a mood that led her there. "If I still had my air awareness, and I just was having a bad day, I would have continued. But it was more than that," she said. "My perspective has never changed so quickly from wanting to be on a podium to wanting to be able to go home, by myself, without any crutches."

The phenomenon of losing her way through the elements that she's practiced countless times before is difficult to explain. As soon as she couldn't perform properly, however, she knew what was at stake.

"I was not physically capable. Every avenue we tried, my body was like, Simone, chill. Sit down. We’re not doing it. And I've never experienced that," she explained. "It's so dangerous. 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.'"

But as the greatest gymnast of all time and the most decorated at just 24 years old, her skill is just as unexplainable.

"It's kind of unheard of to win as many things as I have. I don't physically understand how I do it," she said of her abilities. "It was a God-given talent."

As difficult as it's been to foster that talent, Biles is coming to terms with the fact that it will be just as difficult to work on the toll that the sport has taken on her mental health. 

"This will probably be something I work through for 20 years. No matter how much I try to forget. It's a work in progress," she said. "It does mean sacrificing some of that stardom. But at the end of the day, you can’t have it all. And if you take care of your mental well-being first, the rest will fall into place."

In the process, she has even become a voice for those struggling with mental health, proving that it takes an immense amount of strength to veer from people's expectations of her.

"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," she said, reminding herself that she is still the GOAT. "At the end of the day, to accomplish everything I've done? That talent probably cannot be matched yet. Looking at my stats, especially in gymnastics, where it’s so injury-filled — I've never had a huge injury stop me from a big meet. To be so healthy for so many years? That never happens. It'll be a long time for somebody to accomplish what I've accomplished."

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