HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Simone Biles is well aware of how the drill goes. She’s lived it. Multiple times at this point.
Whenever the gymnastics star goes to work, the questions about the Olympics come, no matter where the Games fall on the calendar.
“It’s just like when you get married (and) they ask when you’re having a baby,” said Biles, who married Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens in April.
So it’s telling that while Biles talked for a good 15 minutes on Saturday night after her electric victory at the U.S. Classic — the 26-year-old’s first meet since her 2021 Tokyo Games was interrupted by a bout with “ the twisties ” — the words “Paris” and “2024” didn’t escape her lips.
“I’m in a really good spot and who knows,” she said. “I’m not going to think so far ahead.”
For now, she’s making it a point to enjoy “the little wins.” Stay in the moment. Try to enjoy the ride, something that became increasingly difficult in 2021, when COVID-19 restrictions forced her to compete in front of a largely empty Ariake Gymnastics Center with her friends and family essentially on the other side of the world back in Texas.
She was never really able to get her bearings in Japan. She knows she wasn’t the only one. Once she came forward to talk about the need to take a break to focus on her mental health, she had athletes in the Olympic Village coming up to her to share their own battles with what she called “silent demons.”
“Getting to talk to people and realizing we’re kind of all going through this together was nice,” Biles said. “But it’s sad because it’s the pinnacle of your career. You should be on top of the world and everybody’s kind of dreading it and so sad.”
Shedding that weight has taken time, therapy (which she goes to at least once a week) and a concerted effort by herself and her team to make sure she doesn’t end up in the same place she was during those strange, lonely, isolated days in Tokyo.
The plan this time around includes a lower profile, at least at this point. Her return was announced via a press release from USA Gymnastics. She has communicated with the public at large strictly through her social media channels, a form of self-protection of sorts.
Biles admitted she was worried about how she’d be received on Saturday night, mindful of the vitriol she had regularly experienced since Tokyo.
That’s why the sonic explosion that accompanied her somewhat frantic introduction — she spun in a circle as she ran onto the floor, momentarily unsure of where she should go — surprised her.
“I think I was more worried about outside noises, but coming in here and seeing all the girls and they’re just so excited and happy and proud,” she said. “For me, it’s just like, this is why I do it.”
Well, not the only reason. Biles stressed she is doing this “for herself,” a description she would use regularly in 2021, one that ultimately turned out not to be entirely true. She could feel the pressure put upon her by unidentified people inside USA Gymnastics that she said called her “our gold medal token.”
“And that’s from our inside team,” Biles said. “That was really tough.”
Asked what doing it “for herself” means this time around, the newlywed laughed.
“I’m a little bit older,” she said. “I’m more mature. So at this point, it’s like nobody’s forcing me out here. This is truly me.”
A decade into her spot atop the sport, the competitiveness still remains. While she has insisted she doesn’t regret what happened in Japan, she called her motivation to get serious about her training in early May “kind of obvious.”
“You saw what happened, pulling out of five finals when … I know what I’m capable of and knowing what I can do,” she said. “It was like a mental injury, you know, So something like that. I knew I could with the proper work and the proper help, I knew I could come back and hopefully have a shot.”
Her gymnastics may be the least of her concerns. Her all-around score of 59.100 was the highest in the world since the Code of Points was updated in 2022, and that’s with her taking a half-point deduction on vault so that coach Laurent Landi could stand on the podium to spot her just in case.
Not that she needed it. She took only a small hop on her Yurchenko Double Pike — a roundoff onto the table followed by two backflips with her hands clasped behind her outstretched legs — and broke out into a celebratory dance afterward.
It provided an exclamation point on a night when she looked as dominant and charismatic as ever.
Still, no talk of Paris. There will be time for that down the road. She’s more focused on making minor improvements before the national championships in San Jose at the end of the month. A trip to Belgium in October, where she could add to her record haul of 25 world championship medals, awaits.
She knows the rhythm of the calendar as the Olympics draw closer. This time around, she’s not getting ahead of herself.
“I think we’ll take it one step at a time,” she said. “And we’ll see.”
AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games
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