June 20, 2024

With an astonishing 37 world and Olympic medals hanging up in her trophy cabinet, Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast of all time.

She is so talented that five gymnastics skills were named after her, having been the first person to ever successfully execute those moves.

Simone Biles
Biles is gearing up for her big return to action at the Paris 2024 Olympic GamesCredit: Getty

But despite her unprecedented success in gymnastics, Biles has overcome significant adversity during her life.

She will travel to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games – which will be live on talkSPORT in July – having not competed for the majority of the three years since Tokyo 2020, which was delayed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a difficult period for The American Olympics hero, which makes her recent return to sport even more impressive.

Simone Biles’ route to the top of the gymnastics world has certainly not been easy – read on below to find out more.

Achieving world domination
Biles was born in Ohio in the United States in 1997 as the third of four children. Her birth mother was unable to look after the children, leaving Biles and her siblings in and out of foster care for three years.

In 2000, Biles’s maternal grandfather began caring for Biles and her younger sister, and officially adopted the pair in 2003. Biles’ two older siblings were adopted by their aunt.

After a difficult start to life, Biles started in gymnastics when she was six years old. She was quickly recognised as a special talent and began her elite career in 2011 when she was 14. Just two years later, Biles had her first two world titles.

Eight more world titles followed, before Biles really broke into public consciousness at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She earned four gold medals after scintillating performances in the all-around, vault, floor and team events.

Simone Biles
Biles became a household name as one of the breakout stars at the Rio 2016 OlympicsCredit: Getty

After a brief hiatus in 2017, Biles continued to dominate at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 2018 and 2019 with nine gold medals, but it was during this time that she also made a traumatic revelation about her past.

Overcoming adversity
In 2018, Biles revealed that she was one of hundreds of young American gymnasts to be abused by their team doctor Larry Nassar. She and other survivors were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award soon after.

With Nassar serving life in prison, Biles testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experiences in 2021.

This was just a couple of months after Biles was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a case of the ‘twisties’.

Biles had been competing in the vault in the women’s team final when she first experienced the sensation, which causes gymnasts to lose awareness of where they are in the air. She was worried for her safety and decided to withdraw after the first rotation of the team final.

After pulling out of the all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor finals too, Biles returned to compete in the balance beam, overcoming the odds to finish with a bronze medal.

Simone Biles received widespread praise for putting her mental health first, but she has since revealed that she was terrified that she wouldn’t even be allowed to return to the US from Tokyo.

“America hates me,” she said. “The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,” she recalled thinking at the time during an interview on podcast Call Her Daddy.

Simone Biles
Biles struggled with the ‘twisties’ at Tokyo 2020Credit: Getty

Simone Biles
But she managed to overcome her mental block to claim a bronze medalCredit: Getty

“And I salute and I want to run. If I could’ve gotten on a plane and flown home, I would’ve done it. I thought I was going to be banned from America because that’s what they tell you: ‘Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back.’”

Getting back on track
Many expected Biles to retire after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, particularly after she spent two years out of the spotlight.

During this period she married her boyfriend, NFL player Jonathan Owens, and appeared to be relishing her time away from gymnastics.

In an interview with Vanity Fair earlier this year, she described how difficult the initial period after Tokyo 2020 was, but described taking a break as the ‘best decision’.

“When I took a break after 2016, I had the time of my life,” she explained. “I was doing anything and everything. But after 2020, it was kind of depressing until I started therapy and got help.

Simone Biles
Biles is married to Green Bay Packers star Jonathan OwensCredit: Getty

Simone Biles
After some time away from competing, Biles looks back to her best ahead of the Olympics, having won gold at the 2023 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in OctoberCredit: Getty

“I felt like a failure. Even though I was empowering so many people and speaking out about mental health, every time I talked about my experience in Tokyo – because it obviously didn’t go the way that I had planned – it stung a little bit.

“But all in all, it was the best decision.”

Biles decided to return to gymnastics at the end of 2022, making her comeback at the 2023 US Classic. This led into the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, where Biles earned gold medals in the all-around, balance beam, floor and team.

With the Olympic Games in Paris now on the horizon, Biles seems stronger than ever, both physically and mentally.

If she does manage to add more gold medals to her already-impressive tally, her status as one of the greatest athletes of all time is well deserved.

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