Time magazine named Team USA gymnast Simone Biles the 2021 Athlete of the Year on Thursday.
Biles took a mental health break during the Tokyo Olympics this summer before returning to compete in the finals on the balance beam, winning a bronze medal for her seventh career medal at the Games. She also won silver as part of the team competition in Tokyo.
"At that point, it was no longer about medaling, but about getting back out there," Biles told Time. "I wanted to compete at the Olympics again and have that experience that I came for. I didn't really care about the outcome. On that beam, it was for me."
Simone Biles (<a href="https://twitter.com/Simone_Biles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Simone_Biles</a>) is TIME's 2021 Athlete of the Year <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TIMEPOY?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TIMEPOY</a> <a href="https://t.co/yz9BkuDnto">https://t.co/yz9BkuDnto</a> <a href="https://t.co/y4FhB0HxAA">pic.twitter.com/y4FhB0HxAA</a>
In September, the GOAT of gymnastics was named to Time's list of the 100 most influential people of 2021. Tennis legend Serena Williams authored the section on Biles and applauded the 24-year-old Ohio native for her work spotlighting mental health:
"What she embodies truly reflects the endless potential of Black women. I wish I had her to look up to when I was younger and trying to realize my dreams.
"Simone's greatest work, however, is what's being done outside of the gym. She is using her mature voice and platform to share her personal journey of self-love, respect and acceptance—Simone is wise beyond her years. By living her truth so loudly and by championing mental health, she is setting new standards of beauty, strength and resilience, breaking down today's image-obsessed stereotypes and encouraging others to do the same. Simone is a shining example of what success looks like when you let go of what the world thinks and gather your strength from yourself ... from your soul."
Biles' decision to take a break during the Olympics came amid a bout of the "twisties," a gymnastics term for a dangerous sensation of being unable to properly locate your body in the air.
Following Biles' decision to step aside, Suni Lee won the individual all-around gold medal for the U.S.
"We all knew we had to continue not without her, but for her," Lee told Time. "What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100 percent. It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us."
Biles explained that a combination of factors went into her taking a break. One of those was being the last survivor of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse still competing while trying to push USA Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee to hold accountable those who allowed it to happen.
"I definitely do think it had an effect," she told Time. "It's a lot to put on one person. I feel like the guilt should be on them and should not be held over us. They should be feeling this [pain], not me."
Her impact goes far beyond gymnastics and sports in general, something recognized by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as part of the Time feature story.
"Simone Biles has used her remarkable position as the world's greatest gymnast ever to inspire a long overdue global conversation on mental health," he said. "Her influence extends far beyond the realm of sports and shows us that another world—a better world—is possible when we speak our truths with integrity and authenticity."
Biles received some criticism for her decision to step away, but she's happy with the end result.
"I was torn because things weren't going the way I wanted," Biles said. "But looking back, I wouldn't change it for anything."
She hasn't ruled out a return for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.