Simone Biles is Awarded Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year for the Third Time

Simon Biles getting Associated Press' Female Athlete of the year again

When Simone Biles went onto the floor of a suburban Chicago stadium in late July for her first gymnastics competition in two years, she knew a lot of people were watching to see how she did.

“I thought that too, don’t worry,” Biles laughed.

The most decorated gymnast of all time knew she was back in her safe zone before the conclusion of one spin. She was a national champion at the end of August. Again. She was a global champion by October. Again.

By December, she had been named The Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year.

Biles became the sixth woman to win the Associated Press’ Female Athlete award for the third time after a spectacular comeback that featured a record eighth U.S. national title and a sixth world all-around gold. In voting by a group of sports media experts, the 26-year-old seven-time Olympic medalist was followed by Iowa basketball standout Caitlin Clark and Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmat of the World Cup champion Spanish soccer team.

And to think, she had no idea what awaited her on that June night in front of a crowded arena that cheered her on at every step, a reaction she claims she didn’t expect.

The last time Biles saluted the judges, she was winning a bronze medal on the balance beam at the end of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, capping off a tumultuous two weeks in which her decision to withdraw from multiple finals due to “the twisties” (think midair vertigo) drew the sometimes awkward conversation about athletes and their mental health into the white-hot spotlight that only the Games provide.

Although she received near-universal praise for her bravery in putting her own safety first, a short search of her social media remarks revealed that not everyone agreed.

She took a two-year break in the aftermath, calling it a “protective shell.” She went farther into treatment, hoping for a return on her terms.

However, this did not prevent self-doubt from sneaking in. Instead of allowing the fear to chip at her confidence, she acknowledged its existence, took a big breath, and put on a performance that was uniquely hers and hers alone.

“I did a lot better than I thought I would do,” Biles told ESPN.

Biles had won the Associated Press’ Female Athlete award in 2016 and 2019, at ages she hardly remembers.

She was still a teenager following her breakout performance at the Rio Olympics. Her parents still live at home. Her life was still centered around the spaceship of a gym her family had erected in the Houston suburbs.

She can’t help but shake her head when she thinks about it. Biles recalls believing she had only enough time to practice and, if she was lucky, get her nails done.

That is no longer the case. She has worked hard to ensure that the sport she has revolutionized does not define her.

In the spring, Biles married Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens. Her time is divided between attending Packers games when her schedule permits, working with business partners, and delving into the minutiae of the house she and her husband are building.

Her evolution is partly organic. Part of it is deliberate. For far too long, she let herself to get preoccupied with the consequence of every turn, flip, twist, and practice in a discipline where perfection is essentially impossible.

“Whenever I was 19, it was the end of the world if I had bad days,” she told me. “Now I’m like, ‘It’s OK, it’s just gymnastics and I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll get it started again.'”

Biles isn’t joking when she says she’s trying to take things “one day at a time,” which is difficult for someone who admits to “best case/worst case-ing” everything. She didn’t become serious about returning until late spring, when coach Cécile Landi suggested over margaritas that it could be time to show the world what Biles had been working on.

Her reaction was something along the lines of “sure, OK,” despite the fact that a part of her believed she might never be ready.

“I didn’t know what I was expecting,” Biles added, crediting the individuals she has surrounded herself with for believing in her when she was still struggling with her own belief. “People were like, ‘No, we’ve seen you in training; this is what was supposed to happen.'”

And what was meant to happen rapidly turned into what has nearly always occurred since Biles began bending the rules of her sport to her will.

It wasn’t simply that she won; it was also how she achieved it. Her sophisticated and gravity-defying tumbling has improved. Her routines for all four events are still packed with extraordinary difficulty a decade into her top career.

Nowhere is this difficulty more obvious than on vault, when she became the first woman in international competition to accomplish a Yurchenko double-pike. The move, a spectacular combination of force and more than a little bravery, is now the sixth element in the sport’s scoring system to bear her name.

She is not need to do that in order to win. She still does it because, as she stated a few years ago, she can.

A third trip to the Olympics awaits next summer, barring injury or the unexpected. She is aware of this. She just doesn’t want to talk about it. She only uses the terms “Paris” or “Olympics” sparingly in interviews, a deliberate choice.

It’s indicative of Biles’ current life situation that she recently uploaded an Instagram story in which followers were encouraged to submit their favorite moment of 2023. The image she picked was not of a routine or a gold podium, but of her and Owens dancing at their wedding reception, the image of a life finding its equilibrium.

“At the end of the day I did worlds and all that stuff, but I did get married, I got to support him,” she went on to say. “It’s just like, it’s kind of nice that gymnastics isn’t the main revolving piece.”

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