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Simone Biles reflects on Olympics ordeal: 'I should have quit way before Tokyo'

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Two months after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and just a few weeks after her bombshell testimony in front of the U.S. Senate, Simone Biles is ready to talk about what happened to her in Japan.

In an interview with Camonghne Felix of The Cut, the superstar gymnast opened up about getting "the twisties," how the events of the last few years ended up impacting her time in Tokyo, and why she believes she should have quit competing well before the Tokyo Olympics.

Biles: Twisties can be 'life or death'

The most stunning moment of the 2020 Olympics was when Biles suddenly pulled out of the all-around competition after just a single vault. She told the media she'd gotten "the twisties," which is when a gymnast's mind and body disconnect and they're no longer able to rely on muscle memory.

The twisties can be extremely dangerous. During that one vault, Biles lost track of where she was in the air and couldn't locate the floor. It's a testament to her talent and strength that she was able to land safely and without serious injury. 

“It’s basically life or death," Biles told the Cut. "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.’”

Since most people don't ever experience the twisties, Biles has a way to explain how it feels. 

“Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight,” Biles says. “One morning, you wake up, you can’t see sh-t, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight. You’d be lost, wouldn’t you? That’s the only thing I can relate it to. I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up — lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?”

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Simone Biles of Team United States competes in the Women's Balance Beam Final on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Simone Biles thinks she should have quit competing years before the Tokyo Olympics due to the Larry Nassar scandal. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Biles: I should have quit years ago

Getting the twisties was essentially a culmination of the last few years of Biles' life. Not long after her brilliant showing at the 2016 Summer Olympics, the horrific actions of Larry Nassar came to light. Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, sexually abused hundreds of young girls and women in the guise of giving them medical treatment.

Biles was also abused by Nassar, which she revealed in 2018. She'd been dealing with the pain privately, but now the whole world knew. Through it all, she kept training, kept competing, and kept winning. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, which interrupted her training schedule, disconnected her from her support system, and delayed the Olympics, she kept moving forward.

Now with the experience of Tokyo in the rearview, Biles told The Cut that was able to recognize something important.

“If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team,” Biles says, her eyes filling with tears. “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.”

Biles still dealing with the aftermath

While Biles said that her decision to pull out of the all-around was immediate, she still has a lot of emotions about what happened. 

“Sometimes it’s like, yeah, I’m perfectly okay with it. Like, that’s how it works. That’s how it panned out.” Biles told The Cut. “And then other times I’ll just start bawling in the house.”

The emotions are just her natural response to everything that happened, and she knows that's okay. At the end of the day, she wouldn't go back and change anything. 

“Everybody asks, ‘If you could go back, would you?’” Biles tells me. “No. 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.”

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