Simone Biles could quit gymnastics forever, and no one would be in a position to fault her for it. She’d still be the most decorated gymnast in history, inarguably the best to ever practice her sport. She’d have the adoration and respect of millions, those of us who’ve cheered her rise against despicable traumas. We’ve witnessed her stand face-to-face with her abuser, Larry Nassar, and condemn the actions of those who enabled him. She has repeatedly proven her resilience. What more can be asked of her?
When, during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, she decided to drop out of the competition for fear of injuring herself—she was experiencing every gymnast’s nightmare, the dreaded “twisties”—she made what some called a cowardly, selfish choice. It was, of course, neither cowardly nor selfish, and Biles went on to win a bronze and silver medal, against all odds, in Japan.
But after she exited the world stage in July, many feared it’d be the last time they’d see the 24-year-old on an Olympic podium. As she revealed to The Cut in the magazine’s October cover story, “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.”
Since the Olympic Games ended, Biles says she has spent hours obsessing over exactly what caused her to fall apart on such an epic scale. A new docuseries from Facebook Watch, Simone vs. Herself, gives viewers an inside look of the agony of those few days.
In a video diary from July 27, we watch as Biles begins to realize not all is as it should be. “Having these mental blocks in the gym recently, it’s not been fun,” she says, her voice breaking as she cries. “It’s been scary. I’m getting lost in my skills. It’s getting to the point where it’s becoming dangerous.” Her team had started to notice cracks in her performance during the Olympic trials four weeks earlier, when she botched an uneven bar routine and complained afterward, “That sucked. I want to die.”
Flash forward to Tokyo, and the documentary splices together the scenes we all witnessed in real time: Her unusual errors during qualifiers, and then the fearful split-second in which Biles completed a 1.5 turn instead of a 2.5, landing hard on her ankles. There’s no question that any other gymnast would have injured herself. Immediately afterward, Biles told her coach she couldn’t continue, exited the Olympic floor and called her mother for guidance—an intimate conversation Simone vs. Herself allows us to hear. It’s impossible not to be swept into the heartbreaking nature of this young girl’s decision. She can choose to “let down” the entire nation, or she can stop herself from destroying her own body.
Later, after the chaos around the Games, Simone vs. Herself gives Biles a few minutes for reflection.
“I feel like I had a lot of courage,” she says. “I know a lot of people look down upon it, but I gave the team the best chance at medaling, and it’s like—five years, and I put myself first for once…I’m not going to regret anything in 10 years when I can still walk, have kids, be there for my family. Like, wow, I was smart at 24.” She later adds, “Even if it didn’t end how I wanted it, I can walk away from the sport and be completely content.”
But anyone who knows a competitor like Biles understands just how challenging it is to leave your passion behind—especially if you’re carrying a chip on your shoulder. It turns out the real question isn’t what more can we ask of Biles, but what more will she demand of herself?
In the final moments of Simone vs. Herself, her coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi is asked if Biles might return for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. With a slight, knowing smile, Canqueteau-Landi reveals that, only a few days earlier, Biles had texted her: “Tell me why I’m thinking about 2024.”
“I sent a little GIF, like, hmm,” Canqueteau-Landi says. “And she responded with, like, a haha, whatever. And then I said, ‘Unfinished business?’ And she responded with, ‘Maybe.’”
Biles could leave gymnastics behind forever; she has every right to. But if she feels she has unfinished business, we’re more than eager to watch her complete the job.
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