Swan song? Biles gearing up for one more Olympic ride

Japan 2020

Gymnast Simone Biles answers a question during an interview after a training session Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SPRING, Texas (AP) — Simone Biles hops up in a chair and lets out a small sigh.

“Only 12 more weeks,” the greatest gymnast of her generation and any other says with a hint of wistfulness.

Not 12 weeks until the Tokyo Olympics begin. But until they’re over.

Don’t misunderstand. This summer, the 24-year-old has every intention on becoming the first woman to repeat as Olympic champion in more than a half-century. To drag, push and pull her sport into the future. To use her ever-expanding platform to advocate for real, substantive change within USA Gymnastics as it tries to emerge from the rubble of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Still. Biles is tired. The five years since her glorious star turn in Rio de Janeiro — when she won four gold medals and five in all — have taken a toll. On her mind. On her spirit. And definitely on her big toes, which remain in her words “shattered.”

She needs a break. Probably an extended one. Maybe a permanent one.

“She’s ready for the next phase,” said Cecile Landi, who along with husband Laurent has served as Biles’ coach since the fall of 2017.

For now, history beckons.

Biles will walk onto the competition floor for the first time in more than 18 months on Saturday night at the US Classic in Indianapolis. The meet marks the start of a frantic stretch in which Biles will stand at the center of a white-hot spotlight of her own creation not only as the face of gymnastics but the entire U.S. Olympic movement and perhaps the Tokyo Games themselves.

Yes, that’s her megawatt smile featured at the end of nearly every NBC Olympic promo. The image and the ubiquity of it initially caught her off guard. Scared her even. Not anymore.

Maybe because she treats it as part of the outside noise she’s done her best to mute.

She didn’t ask to be immersed in three different social movements at once. It happened anyway. Three years ago she came forward as one of the hundreds of young women abused by Nassar — a longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor — under the guise of medical treatment. As a prominent Black athlete, she’s found herself trying to find a way to use her platform to speak out against social injustice. As a female, she’s become increasingly focused on aligning herself with entities that make empowering other women a priority, one of the driving forces behind her decision to recently leave Nike for Athleta.

“It’s kind of scary sometimes having that power placed into my hands because I didn’t ask for it,” she said. “So I’m also getting used to that and I have to be careful about what I say because I know the impact that I can have.”

It takes discipline. There are times she finds herself with her phone in her hands, her emotions running high and an off-the-cuff message typed out.

Thank God for the delete button.

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