AP's Female Athlete of the Year Made Comeback for Three-peat

Simone Biles, who stunned in her return to gymnastics competition, wins honor a 3rd time
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 22, 2023 12:45 PM CST
AP's Female Athlete of the Year Had to Conquer Self-Doubt
United States' Simone Biles competes in the uneven bars during the women's all-round final at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.   (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

There were jitters, of course. Considering all that happened, how could there not? When Simone Biles walked onto the floor at a suburban Chicago arena in late July for her first gymnastics competition in two years, she knew plenty of people were wondering how it was going to go. "I thought that too, don't worry," Biles tells the AP with a laugh. By the end of one rotation, the most decorated gymnast of all time realized she was back in her safe space. By the end of August, she was a national champion. Again. By October, she was a world champion. Again. And by December, she was the AP's Female Athlete of the Year. Again. Her triumphant return that included her record eighth US national championship and a sixth world all-around gold made Biles the sixth woman to claim the AP honor, voted by a panel of sports media professionals, for a third time.

And to think, she wasn't really sure what awaited her on that summer night in front of a packed arena that supported her at every turn, a response she says she didn't anticipate. Hard to blame her. The last time Biles had saluted the judges, she was earning a bronze medal on the balance beam at the end of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the end of a tumultuous two weeks where her decision to pull out of multiple finals due to "the twisties" (think mid-air vertigo) dragged the sometimes uncomfortable conversation about athletes and their mental health into the white-hot spotlight only the Games provide. Though she drew near-universal acclaim for her courage to put her safety first, a quick check of her mentions on social media showed not everyone agreed.

She took a two-year hiatus in the aftermath, diving deeper into therapy while eyeing a return on her terms. Still, that didn't stop self-doubt from creeping in. Only this time, instead of letting the anxiety gnaw at her confidence, she accepted its presence, took a deep breath, and put on the kind of show that is hers and hers alone, becoming the first woman to perform a Yurchenko double-pike vault in international competition, a breathtaking combination of power and more than a little guts. Biles previously won the AP honor in 2016 and 2019, times in her life she now barely recognizes. "Whenever I was 19, it was the end of the world if I had bad days," she says. "Now I'm like, 'It's OK, it's just gymnastics.'" (More Simone Biles stories.)

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