True superstars and legends often go beyond reaching the highest level of their sport to overcome long odds with miraculous performances. She was already one of the most decorated gymnasts in history when she got a case of “the twisties” — a mental block where her body would not do what she wanted. More than embarrassing, it put Biles at risk of severe physical injury if she lost control of a vault, balance beam maneuver or other movements that left her mid-air and out of control.
Biles is now back after a two-year break. At the U.S. Championship in August, she got an all-around score of 59.100, the highest since the Code of Points was updated in 2022. The top score also included a .5 reduction on the vault for having her coach spot her in case something went wrong. In October, she won the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp. It was her sixth global title and first since 2019, and it is also the latest since she first won it an unprecedented ten years earlier in 2013. At age 26, Biles now has 34 World and Olympic medals, which makes her the most decorated gymnast in history.
Sparking an important conversation
Swimmer Michael Phelps was part of the Tokyo Olympics broadcast as a commentator and spoke of his battles in dealing with mental health issues while being one of the most dominant athletes of all time. At that time, Biles’s troubles sparked a discussion with many famous stars sharing their challenges in dealing with the pressures of elite-level sports. It also helped make it okay for the rest of us to share our mental health challenges, whether longstanding or coming out of COVID.
Taking it one day at a time
Some were downright angry that Biles withdrew from the competition despite having no physical injury, but her courage to withdraw then and come back to the top of her sport now is a legendary win. She now sees a therapist at least once a week and is quoted on the Olympics’s website:
‘Gymnastics is something that I do, and it’s not who I am as a person.’
Biles has not announced if she’ll compete for the U.S. in Paris, but it is clear that she is competing again and doing it on her terms.