Simone Says…

By Chris Korotky

Her own expectations. Her country’s expectations. And the world’s expectations. Simone Biles admits she feels it. 

In a candid post following the Qualification round at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Biles shared: “it wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it. I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The Olympics is no joke! BUT I’m happy my family was able to be with me virtually. they mean the world to me!”

Though the U.S. team did end Qualifications with a relatively high score of 170.562, they did find themselves in the unfamiliar position of landing in second behind the athletes from Russia (ROC). 

On the mat and on paper, Biles’ performance placed her as head of the class, top of the field, and leader in the rankings. An impressive 57.731 topped all other performers. But the prelims performance wasn’t flawless. There was the big out-of-bounds on floor. A step out on the normally picture-perfect Cheng. Large steps back on the full twisting double back beam dismount. They were uncharacteristic. And they didn’t meet her own high standards.

The 7-time U.S. National All-Around Champion and defending Olympic Champion has been dubbed by virtually all in the sport as the G.O.A.T., Greatest of All Time. And Simone has embraced that moniker, even embroidering a goat image on her leotards. Fans love her for it. We love her for it. She’s earned it.

There was a time in gymnastics when it seemed athletes – particularly female athletes – were expected or perhaps were taught to show little emotion on and even off the competition floor. We can recall countless times in the Mixed Zone after competitions where there was virtually no reaction, regardless of the circumstances, and an athlete would just say, “I just wanted to hit four-for-four,” with same blank look, whether they had hit all four events or bombed all four events. With Simone, you don’t get that. She’s not afraid to be herself.

She’s leading the charge in an era that’s emerging. And that’s a great thing. Gymnasts are becoming more comfortable being themselves on and off the floor. Look at every other sport and you see emotion, and it’s a natural thing. A soccer player scores a goal and they burst out in excitement. A baseball player strikes out, and you can see the frustration on their face. The examples in other sports can go on and on. 

So, if Simone rolls her eyes in competitions – it’s not disrespect, it’s probably because she expected more of herself. If she looks serious, it’s not because she’s mean – she’s focused. If she has a huge smile on her face, she’s probably pretty darn happy with meeting her own expectations. Or, just joyful in being with her teammates at a monumental Olympic Games. Regardless of which it may be, we’re just happy that she’s being herself, and not afraid to show emotion. We love that she’s genuine in every regard.

And back to that Qualification performance… remember that prelims is just that – all about qualifying to finals. And the Americans check that off. “Obviously there are little things we need to work on, so we’ll go back and practice and work on that, just so we can do our best performance at team finals, because that’s what matters,” Biles said after the competition. 

So yes, now it’s on to Finals. It’s an all-new ballgame with a clean slate of scores. 

And we imagine Simone will have a lot to say, with her performance, with her words and yes, with those great candid facial expressions that we all love. In fact, we’ll leave you here with a few of them from that up-and-down Qualification round!

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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