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Simone Biles overcame tears, fears for a no-regrets gymnastics comeback

One day during her break from gymnastics, Simone Biles sat across a table from her coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi, and told them, “I want to go back to the Olympics.”

The Landis said no, initially.

“They were like, ‘No, you’ve set expectations for yourself for so long,’” Biles remembered in a March conversation with podcaster Alex Cooper for NBC Olympics. “‘Let’s just go back in the gym, get in shape and see what happens.’”

Biles agreed. After returning to intermittent training in September 2022 for the first time in more than a year, she began doing two-a-days at the start of 2023 and really ramped it up after her wedding last May.

Biles, already a 32-time medalist between the Olympics and world championships, had a simple reason for wanting to return to competition.

“I don’t want to be down the road in 10 years, look back, and be like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have tried,’” she said.

She was back competing in August, won the all-around at all three of her 2023 meets and earned four gold medals at October’s world championships.

On Saturday, she competes for the first time in 2024 at the Core Hydration Classic as the run-up to the Olympic Trials and Paris Games begins.


Those at her family’s gym in Spring, Texas, saw what it took to climb back after the Tokyo Olympics. Biles recalled feeling off on the flight to Japan in July 2021.

“There was something that I could feel that was going to be out of my control, and I didn’t know when it was going to happen or what was going to happen, but I felt strange, but I’m not going tell anybody on the team that,” she said. “I’m a veteran. It’s everyone (else on the team’s) first time at the Olympics. They’re looking up to me.”

In qualifying, Biles had the top all-around score and made every apparatus final. Before the first final two days later, the team event, she dealt with the twisties in training.

The twisties are when a gymnast gets lost in the air while performing twisting elements, making it dangerous to compete due to injury risk. Biles compared it to waking up one day and not knowing how to drive a car.

“You have no control over your body,” she said. “You’ve been doing something for so long, and you now no longer have control. It’s terrifying.”

The U.S. began the team final in Tokyo on vault. Biles got lost in the air on her vault and did one and a half twists rather than the planned two and a half.

“As soon as I landed, I was like, ‘Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me, and I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,’” she said.

Biles left the floor, called her mom and, through tears, said, “I can’t do this.”

“Don’t do it,” Nellie Biles told her, “because the last thing I need for you to do is attempt something and injure yourself.”

She withdrew from the rest of the team final and came back into the arena in Tokyo to cheer on her teammates. The Americans took silver behind gymnasts from Russia.

Biles returned a week later to win bronze on the balance beam, swapping out a twisting dismount for a flipping one, then flew back to the U.S.

She actually went into her home gym two weeks after the Olympics and successfully performed all of her skills, Laurent Landi said.

“We knew she needed time,” Cecile Landi said. “We just didn’t have it (at the Olympics).”

Then Biles began a 34-show nationwide gymnastics tour with teammates that fall, which had been planned out before the Tokyo Olympics.

“The tour helped me get out there and realize there’s more to life than gymnastics,” said Biles, who has another tour planned after the Paris Games. “I honestly thought, since I didn’t compete at the Olympics in the way that I was supposed to, and that we didn’t win gold, I thought nobody was going to show up to my tour stops. And night after night, it kind of filled my cup up because all of these girls and the fans came out.”

Biles said the lowest point of her Tokyo Olympic experience and its aftermath came much later: after she returned to training at the World Champions Centre.

“Getting over those demons, because there were so many days I would come back to the gym, and it was like one step forward, five steps back, one step forward, five steps back,” she said.

Often, she’d get lost in the air on a skill, stop her practice, pack her bags and leave.

“Why am I putting myself through this? Hell no,” she said. “I left so many times. I’m like, ‘Poor Cecile and Laurent.’ The amount of times that I walked out because I would just get lost, or the amount of times I sat there, and I would just cry, because I’m like, ‘It’s happening. It’s happening.’”

Even watching gymnasts twist in the air on TV made her cringe.

“I’d be like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God, I’m gonna throw up, I can’t,’” she said.

Still, Biles kept coming back to the gym. She endured, aided by weekly therapy sessions, through the 2023 season. She capped it by competing five days in an eight-day stretch at October’s worlds.

“If we would’ve had one more day of world championships, I think just mentally from convincing myself that I can do it so many times — you’re fine, twisting, twisting — I think I would’ve just broke down and been like, mentally, I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “I think physically I would’ve been able to do it, but if there were one more day of worlds, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Biles said in the March interview that she was “just now feeling comfortable.”

The U.S. Championships are at the end of May and the Olympic Trials at the end of June, after which the five-woman team will be named for the Paris Games in July and August.

Biles can become the first U.S. female gymnast to compete in three Olympics since Dominique Dawes in 2000.

“I’ve learned so much about myself in such different Olympic experiences that now having another Olympic year in a cycle, it’s traumatizing in a way to walk into,” she said, “but I feel like at this point, nothing can break me.

“I’ve just been through so much trauma, so much healing, the process. I’m actually excited to see what happens after this.”

To hear more of Biles’ conversation with Alex Cooper on Cooper’s podcast, click here.

With 100 days until the Paris Olympics, take a closer look at the storylines of just a few of the top women competing at the Games.