On Thursday (December 9), Time named Simone Biles its 2021 Athlete of the Year.
Biles, the most decorated athlete in gymnastics history, earned the honor for propelling the conversation on mental health to the forefront after withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics and “made clear the importance of prioritizing oneself and refusing to succumb to external expectations,” the publication cites.
Time writes that after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open for her well-being and mental health, Biles “raised the volume” on the conversation given her platform.
"I do believe everything happens for a reason, and there was a purpose,” she said, via Time. “Not only did I get to use my voice, but it was validated as well.”
During team competition in Tokyo, Biles said she experienced the “twisties” and lost herself in the air. She continued to cheer her teammates on from the stands and did not return until the final competition.
Biles left Japan with a silver in the team event and bronze on the beam – a record-tying seven medals for most by a U.S. gymnast.
Biles is the only gymnast still competing who survived the sexual abuse of former team doctor Larry Nassar. Leading up to the games, Biles said she kept competing to put pressure on USA Gymnastics to initiate an investigation and change.
The 24-year-old told Time she believed she was fine heading into the Tokyo Games. Unlike the previous two Olympics, however, she was unable to bring family and couldn't hang out with teammates because of COVID-19 protocols.
“We couldn’t hang out because of COVID-19 protocols,” she said. “So things you normally don’t think about because you don’t have time, now you have hours on end to think about — those doubts, those worries and those problems.”