Simone Biles is truly having a gold medal year.
Take her stalwart Olympic run and not long after, her positively heroic Senate appearance — where she condemned the FBI and U.S. Olympic Committee for their botched handling of the sex abuse against she and her teammates by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Finally, there was the triumphant and sold-out stadium tour where she performed with her Tokyo 2020 teammates.
Now, the longtime Houstonian has been named Time Magazine’s 2021 Athlete of the Year. This is the second time this year the publication has honored the gymnastics G.O.A.T.; she was previously named to Time’s Most Influential People list in September. The cover image features a simple close-up with Biles looking forward — almost defiantly so.
In its laudatory piece, Time scribes Alice Park and Sean Gregory detail Biles’ tumultuous, July Olympic performance in Tokyo, where she famously made the controversial decision to back out of competition after a case of the “twisties,” which could be described as Biles simply losing her positioning and whereabouts whilst in midair.
Critics (basely) lambasted the 24-year-old for “quitting” while fans united in her need for mental wellness. “Biles’ assuredness in speaking her truth and taking ownership of her fate offered permission for athletes and non-athletes alike to talk more openly about challenges they’d once kept to themselves,” Time notes. Indeed, athletes such as fellow Olympic icon Michael Phelps and NBA star Kevin Love quickly rose to her defense.
“To see her choose herself, we’re going to see the effects of that for the next generation,” Allyson Felix, he most decorated female track-and-field athlete of all time, told Time. “When thinking about role models . . . wow, here is someone showing you can choose your mental health over what the world says is the most important thing.”
Indeed, Biles has proven that she is unafraid to prioritize. She has maintained a relatively low profile since her return to Houston after the Tokyo 2020 games.
In a recent, casual chat with CultureMap during a gala which saw her boyfriend Texans safety Jonathan Owens rocking the runway, Biles shared that she’s enjoying the time off, traveling, and focusing on Owens and her family. She declined to say if a return to the Olympic bars and beams was in her future.
Time will no doubt tell. But, if her 32 Olympic and World Championship medals — plus her utterly transcendent poise in the face of global adversity — are any measure, she’s forever a gold-medal champion.