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Simone Biles Opened Up About The Reaction To Her "Challenging" Olympic Games After Only Ever Getting Congratulated For Winning In The Past

"For my professional career, I've only ever been congratulated for winning. Now it's like, for being a human, for being vulnerable."

Posted on September 16, 2021, at 10:18 a.m. ET

Simone Biles was named one of Time magazine's most influential people of the year on Wednesday, weeks after returning from an Olympic Games like no other.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

As one of the most accomplished gymnasts of all time, Biles had entered the Tokyo Games as a strong favorite to take home gold. However, she ended up withdrawing from the majority of her events in order to look after her mental health.

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The 24-year-old withdrew from the team final after her first vault of the competition went wrong, with experts and Biles herself revealing that she was lucky to escape without serious injury. Almost immediately after she stepped off the mat, Biles exited the floor altogether before it was officially announced that she'd withdrawn from the competition. She later returned to cheer on her teammates, who went on to win the silver medal.

Biles then withdrew from the individual all-around final, an event for which she was highly favored as the reigning Olympic champion. However, citing a mental block (known as "the twisties" in gymnastics) that could be dangerous and leave her injured, Biles stepped down. Her USA teammate, Sunisa Lee, went on to win gold.

After withdrawing from a slew of other individual events, Biles eventually made her return to competition, taking home the bronze medal with her balance beam routine.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

"It means more than all of the golds because I pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I've even been here," she said after winning the bronze. "I didn’t really care about the outcome. I was just happy that I made the routine and that I got to compete one more time."

"This Olympic experience was definitely more challenging," Biles told Time after being included in its list of 100 most influential people. "Starting off with no audience, no families, having to be quarantined because of COVID, knowing that I was a leader for the survivors being one of the remaining in the sport still."

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Biles was referring to being a survivor of former longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who is currently behind bars for sexually abusing more than 200 young athletes over nearly two decades.

In an emotional testimony to Congress on Wednesday, Biles claimed that the "FBI turned a blind eye to" the multiple reports of abuse against Nassar.

Biles went on to discuss how being an "overthinker" had affected her in Tokyo, telling Time that it could be "helpful but hurtful" at the same time.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

"Being on the floor, it's kind of ... It's just a lot to take for one person," she explained. "Thankfully, I feel like I've done a pretty good job at it, but it's a lot. It's heavy."

"Being an overthinker can definitely be helpful but hurtful at times," she went on. "I think, for the most part, it’s benefitted me, but then whenever you get inside your head, that’s when it becomes hurtful, and then you start overthinking your skills, your routines, your confidence, the team."

Reflecting on her decision to withdraw from multiple events, Biles said it was "very weird" to be in the stands for a competition, but that her job in that moment was to support her team.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

"If I could be anything at that moment, it was definitely a cheerleader," she said. "I support the girls on and off field and I'm there to mentor them no matter what happens."

Following the Tokyo Olympics, Biles was praised by many for prioritizing her mental health and being an inspirational role model. However, the 24-year-old added that, because of her highly accomplished career, she was still getting used to be congratulated over an event she didn't win.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

"If I walk into a grocery store or anywhere else and people say congratulations, I'm wondering why they're congratulating me, because for years, for my professional career, I've only ever been congratulated for winning," she explained. "Now it's like, for being a human, for being vulnerable. It's not what I'm used to, but it's been nice that they still acknowledge what I've done, what I've been going through, and what I've overcome."

This follows a similar sentiment that Biles noted not long after the Olympics, when she tweeted: "The outpouring [of] love & support I've received has made me realize I'm more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before."

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Biles was praised by another legendary athlete who knows a thing or two about breaking boundaries and reaching the peak of their sport: 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

In a short introduction to Biles, celebrating her place on the list of most influential people of the year, Williams wrote: "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."

"She is using her mature voice and platform to share her personal journey of self-love, respect and acceptance," the tennis champion continued. "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."

Williams finished: "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."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.