I may never be healed: Biles

Simone Biles working on the balance beam during practice for the American gymnastics championships on Wednesday in Kansas City. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Simone Biles working on the balance beam during practice for the American gymnastics championships on Wednesday in Kansas City. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Olympic champ still scarred by Nassar case, says she still cannot trust USA Gymnastics

KANSAS CITY • The mix of rage, disappointment and grief are still there. Just under the surface.

And while Simone Biles tries to stay focused on her healing process, more than 18 months after the Olympic gymnastics champion revealed she was among the hundreds of athletes abused by disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar, there are times when the massive systemic breakdown that allowed his behaviour to run unchecked for years becomes too much.

"It hits you like a train wreck," Biles, 22, said on Wednesday night as she prepared to win her sixth national title at the United States championships.

The greatest gymnast of her generation and the face of the US Olympic movement ahead of next year's Tokyo Games is in a difficult spot. She still loves competing, pushing herself and the boundaries of her sport in the process.

Yet, she still finds herself working under the banner of USA Gymnastics (Usag) and, by extension, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

Both organisations were called out by Congress, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), last week in a scathing report that detailed a series of catastrophic missteps that allowed Nassar - a long-time trainer with Usag as well as Michigan State University - to continue abusing patients even after athletes started questioning his methods in the summer of 2015.

While he is now behind bars for the rest of his life - and Usag has undergone a massive leadership overhaul since the 2016 Rio Games as it fights to retain its status as the sport's national governing body - the scars remain fresh for Biles.

"I don't mean to cry," she said through tears. "But it's hard coming here for an organisation, having had them fail us so many times.

"You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn't protect us."

CONSTANT REMINDER

Coming back to the organisation that has failed you, it's not easy being out here. Every day is a reminder of what I went through, what I'm going through and how I've come out of it.

SIMONE BILES, Olympic champion, on Usag.

Biles is in therapy to help deal with the emotional fallout, well aware that progress will be slow and that a full recovery might not be possible.

"Everyone's healing process is different and that's the hardest part," she said. "Because I feel like maybe I should be healed or this or that.

"But I feel like it will be an open wound for a really long time and it might not ever get healed."

So Biles is doing what she can, trying to find a balance between her pursuit to become the first woman in more than 50 years to defend her gold medals in all-around, team, vault and floor exercise events, while using her status as the face of her sport to effect change.

"When we tweet, it obviously goes a long way," she said. "We're blessed to be given a platform so that people will hear and listen.

"But you know, it's not easy coming back to the sport. Coming back to the organisation that has failed you, it's not easy being out here. Every day is a reminder of what I went through, what I'm going through and how I've come out of it."

Asked if she is optimistic that Usag - which is on its fourth president and chief executive officer since March 2017 and filed for bankruptcy last autumn to try to halt its decertification process - can find a way forward, she shrugged.

Usag has taken several steps in addressing what it acknowledges was a toxic culture that enabled Nassar. Yet Biles is not ready to put her faith in Usag, if ever.

"All we can do at this point is to have faith that they'll have our backs, they'll do the right thing," Biles said. "But at the end of the day, it's just a ticking time bomb. We'll see. It's a waiting game."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2019, with the headline 'I may never be healed: Biles'. Print Edition | Subscribe