BEHIND THE SMILE OF SIMONE BILES

Champion gymnast Simone Biles’ mother, Nellie Biles, reflects on the unseen tumbles that have influenced her daughter’s meteoric rise.

Author: Nellie Biles

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We first introduced Simone to a sports psychologist in 2013 after she’d had a really bad meet. She fell on three apparatus and almost killed herself on the falls, and that was just the warm-up. So her coach said, “That’s it. Pull her out.” It was the most devastating thing Simone had been through.

Then at the next competition she just bombed. She started saying, “No, I’m just not good enough. I cannot do this.” There was a lot of moping, a lot of crying, a lot of acting out in the gym. That’s when we figured she needed some help to deal with the expectations of herself and the expectations of others.

Then, she competed in nationals and won the all-around — that made her feel so much better. At [the World Championships] I just told her, “Don’t forget, you’ve trained for this. Go out there and make it your best practice day.” I always talk with her before a competition. I say to her, “You need to stay safe and focused, and don’t forget to be the best Simone.” Those are the three things that I tell her.

I don’t care what “the best” means. If the best means she takes first place, that’s great. If the best means she takes fourth place, that’s also great. Watching the Worlds, I just remember it was a great competition until my husband said, “I was hearing from other people that there’s a big chance of Simone winning.” I didn’t give any credit to that.

Then, on the last event, which was the floor, my husband said, “Simone needs a fourteen-point-whatever to win.” I knew she was capable of that, but I didn’t know what she was going to do out there. Then she just rocked the floor. When I saw the score, I just cried and cried because I knew how much it took to get to that spot.

Now, when I ask her how she’s preparing for this summer, she says, “Mom, I’m preparing the same way I prepared for my first Worlds.” When she says that, she honestly means it. She prepares herself every year. She prepares herself one day at a time because that’s all she needs to focus on.

Simone is one of the most competitive, stubborn people I know. No one understands this the way I do. I’ve seen my daughter write her goals on a piece of paper year after year — and she does everything she can to reach those goals. She’s so passionate about this sport it humbles me. But she’s also that same giggly six-year-old who stood on her head and hands and flipped around the house. If she’s out there smiling, if she waves and if she’s acting silly, she’s going to have a good meet.