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Simone Biles, the 24-year-old U.S. Gymnast, has been announced by Time Magazine as the 2021 Athlete of the Year.
The face of U.S. Gymnastics, as well as being widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time, made headlines during the Tokyo Olympics the past summer when she qualified for all five individual event finals as well as the team finals, but chose to pull out to focus on her mental health.
The six-time Olympic medalist later revealed she was dealing with issues surrounding air awareness, referred to as “the twisties” in her sport. Biles continued to train and be evaluated daily by the USA Gymnastics staff. Just over a week after pulling out, she decided she would compete in the balance beam finals.
“We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow — Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!! Can’t wait to watch you both!” USA Gymnastics said in a statement.
Biles tackles mental health stigma at Summer Olympic games
Critics of Biles claimed that she “quit” on her team and the country for withdrawing. Biles refuted those beliefs by saying “If I were going to quit, I had other opportunities to quit,” she says. “There is so much I’ve gone through in this sport. I should have quit over all that—not at the Olympics. It makes no sense.”
Athletes from all over the world rallied behind Biles. Many praised Biles for her courage to speak up about mental health while on the biggest stage in the world.
In early September, Biles was a part of four U.S. Gymnastic members who testified before Congress about the abuse athletes faced from former team doctor Larry Nassar. Biles told Congress through tears that the FBI and gymnastics officials turned a “blind eye” to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of her and hundreds of other women.
Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she “can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you.” She declared herself a survivor of sexual abuse.
It has been an eventful year for the 24-year-old gymnast, but a meaningful and impactful year at that. The Athlete of the Year award barely does justice for all Biles has given the world of sports in 2021.