Simone Biles is getting psyched to return to the Olympics – literally. As part of her preparation on the road to Rio, the reigning three-time world champion has been meeting with sports psychologist Robert Andrews. But it took a while for her see how this sort of training could help her strike gold at the Games. In fact, her first session was downright awkward.
“I was in the chair like this,” she said, slouching back, adding, “And I didn’t talk. He was like: ‘What’s wrong?’”
Simone wanted him to know she wasn’t crazy.
“He was, ‘What do you mean you’re not crazy?’” Biles said. “I said: ‘It’s a sports psychologist, so that means you’re crazy.’ He said, ‘Are you kidding me? You sat in this chair for an hour because you think I’m going to tell you you’re crazy?’”
Once they eliminated that word from the conversation, progress was made. Also impressed by his gymnastics knowledge, Simone said she started “opening up” and was able to process his message in ways she couldn’t absorb the words of her family and her coach, Aimee Boorman.
“He’s been able to chip away, little by little,” Boorman said. “I know every time she goes to see him she feels better about what she’s doing.
“It definitely gave her some insight to why she was feeling a certain way, and tools of how to deal with things she started feeling. Before every competition, she’ll at least have a phone call with him.”
The last three years of Simone’s sport career seem like something out of a Disney movie: talented gymnast goes on a surprising winning streak, often beating her opponents by sizable margins, and is heavily favoured to become a breakout star at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Except it’s not a movie. At least not yet.
Simone has won the last three world championships in the all-around competition. She has captured the national crown four consecutive times, most recently when she won the all-around title last month – by almost four points.
Surely, she seems destined for worldwide fame, maybe even referred to by only her given name – Simone – by the time everyone packs up and leaves Brazil.
Simone and 13 other gymnasts competed in the US Olympic trials last weekend under the watchful and critical eye of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. There would have been one more, but Alyssa Baumann pulled out on June 30 after suffering an injury when she was training on the uneven bars.
Simone was already a lock for the Rio Games, but aside from her, veterans Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas and a newcomer – 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez – there was one spot up for grabs on the five-woman team.
Would it go to an artful specialist such as Ashton Locklear, who won the uneven bars at nationals in St. Louis last month? Or perhaps to Maggie Nichols, a silver medalist in the all-around event at the nationals in 2015? In the end it the fifth spot on the team went to Madison Kocian, who was fifth in nationals in the all-around competition.
Despite being picked to represent the US women in Rio, Simone, doesn’t want to jinx anything, calling the topic of the Olympics a “touchy subject.”
Asked to explain, she said of the Games, “It makes all of us nervous. Just thinking about the Olympics gives us chills.”
Still, the 19-year-old looked as relaxed and cheerful as ever, trying to impart some of her hard-won knowledge and psychological insights to younger colleagues on the eve of their most-important competition yet.
“I always tell them, yes, if we mess up, we kind of get jittery and scared,” Simone said. “But the crowd paid to come see gymnastics. They didn’t pay to see us all stay on the equipment. So if we fall, you just have to get back up there and show confidence because they’re just happy they’re in the same building with you.”
Simone threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Houston Astros-Seattle Mariners baseball game Monday in Texas. She handled the occasion with grace and even did an aerial flip before making the throw.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “I was like: ‘Can I do a beam routine instead?’”