Story at a glance

  • TIME magazine named Simone Biles 2021 athlete of the year.
  • Biles has earned 25 Olympic medals since 2020.
  • The American gymnast is the only survivor of former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse who is still competing.

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles captivated the world when she made an untimely exit from the Tokyo Olympics over the summer, but she still managed to cement her legacy, earning TIME magazine’s athlete of the year title.  

24-year-old Biles is considered the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT), after earning a total of 25 medals, 19 of which are gold, during her competitions at the Olympic games from 2016 to 2020 (due to the coronavirus pandemic the 2020 Olympics were held over the summer in 2021). 

The International Gymnastics Federation has even named four skills after Biles across multiple categories, including uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

On Thursday, TIME magazine added to Biles’ accolades, declaring her 2021’s athlete of the year.

Biles turned heads over the summer during the Tokyo summer Olympics when she unexpectedly withdrew from competition. She reported having the “twisties,” a dangerous moment when a gymnast cannot compartmentalise where their body is in the air while trying to complete a move. Biles still walked away with two medals though, one silver and one bronze.


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However, Biles was lauded for her decision to withdraw, especially by her own Team USA gymnastics teammates. Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee told TIME that, “We all knew we had to continue not without her, but for her. What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100 percent. It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us.”

Other prominent athletes like tennis player Naomi Osaka and former football player Colin Kapernick also expressed support for Biles after she withdrew from Tokyo. 

Biles told TIME that, “I do believe everything happens for a reason, and there was a purpose. Not only did I get to use my voice, but it was validated as well.”

TIME also highlighted another element to Biles vulnerability that was dominating national headlines, the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. Biles is the only survivor of that scandal who is still competing.

TIME described Biles’ bravery in speaking the truth and taking ownership of her fate as a means for other athletes and non-athletes to talk more openly about their own mental health challenges.  

Biles told TIME that though the Tokyo Olympics did not go as she or anyone expected, she’s feeling confident about her decision to withdraw from competition. “I was torn because things weren’t going the way I wanted, but looking back, I wouldn’t change it for anything,” said Biles.


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Published on Dec 09, 2021