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Simone Biles Says She Wasn't Going To Let Larry Nassar Take Her Joy Away

Simone Biles poses with the bronze medal during the Women's Balance Beam Final medal ceremony on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August.
Jamie Squire
Getty Images
Simone Biles poses with the bronze medal during the Women's Balance Beam Final medal ceremony on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August.

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles said that she "should have quit [gymnastics] way before Tokyo" in a new interview that sheds light on what the superstar has endured outside the spotlight.

In a new interview with New York magazine, the 24-year-old Olympian reflected on her time at the Tokyo Games and the tumultuous road there, which included surviving abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar. A former doctor for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, Nassar has since been convicted of sexually assaulting girls and women when he was supposed to be providing them with treatment. About 250 girls and women came forward to accuse him of abuse.

"If you looked at everything I've gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team," Biles told the magazine. "I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. 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."

Nassar's abuse did not come to light publicly until 2015; in the years that followed, more and more gymnasts began to speak out about the abuse Nassar inflicted onto athletes while working for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. Nassar was ultimately convicted and is serving life in prison.

Biles is one of numerous gymnasts who have come forward to speak out about Nassar's abuse. Earlier this month, Biles, along with former Team USA gymnasts McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, testified at a Senate hearing concerning the FBI's handling of the Nassar case. The FBI has been accused of failing to act after receiving numerous complaints about Nassar, thereby allowing him to abuse more than 100 girls and women after agents had already been made aware of his sexual misconduct, according to an earlier NPR report.

Biles talks Tokyo and the "twisties"

Biles initially shocked fans when she withdrew from competition during the Tokyo Olympics, but was later applauded for prioritizing her mental health and her safety. She said then that she'd been battling the "twisties" prior to dropping out, a dangerous phenomenon wherein a gymnast's mind and body are out of sync, rendering performances life-threatening.

Speaking to New York, Biles described the moment when she knew that she couldn't safely compete.

"It's so dangerous," she said. "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.'"

Biles later returned to competition, and won a bronze medal on the balance beam — her seventh Olympic medal. She launched a national conversation about the importance of maintaining good mental health.

Biles' experience at the Olympics added new urgency to conversations about the pressure facing Black female athletes, and Black women in general. Biles touched on this topic during her interview, remarking, "As a Black woman, we just have to be greater."

"Because even when we break records and stuff, they almost dim it down, as if it's just normal," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sharon Pruitt-Young