Simone Biles named Time’s Athlete of the Year

The magazine on Thursday announced Simon Biles as Time magazine’s 2021 Sportsman of the Year.

Biles, the most decorated athlete in gymnastics history, has the honor of pushing the conversation about mental health to the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist. “She made clear the importance of prioritizing herself and refusing to give in to outside expectations,” Alice Park and Sean Gregory wrote for Time Magazine when she pulled out of events at the Tokyo Olympics.

Time wrote that after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open for her well-being and mental health, Biles “raised the volume” in the conversation due to her status and platform.

Through Time, she said, “I think everything happens for a reason, and there was a purpose. Not only was I able to use my voice, it was validated as well.”

Biles was expected to add five gold medals to her Olympic quota and perform another skill named after her on the international stage. She competed in the late games as the face of American Athletics, but during the team competition, she suffered from “the flips” and lost herself in the air. She pulled back and cheered her teammates from the stands and didn’t even return to the final competition’s balance beam.

She left Tokyo with a silver medal in the team event and a bronze medal on the beam, scoring seven medals for most American gymnasts. She came home as a role model for every child or adult to put themselves and their mental health first, as Time book explained in their year-end profile of the 24-year-old.

Biles is the only survivor of the sexual assault of ex-team doctor Larry Nassar who still competes with her and she said it continues to affect her. In the lead-up to the games, she said she continued to compete to pressure USA Gymnastics to begin investigation and change. And after the Olympics, she said the pressure should have prompted her to quit years ago when Nassar was always in the news.

Instead, she continued competing and told Time magazine that she thought she was fine heading to the Tokyo Games. But, unlike the two previous Olympics, she was unable to bring the family and could not hang out with her teammates due to COVID-19 protocols. It left her largely alone with her thoughts and focus on gymnastics.

“We haven’t been able to hang out because of the COVID-19 protocols, so the things that you don’t normally think about because you don’t have time, and now you have many hours to think about — those doubts, those fears and those problems,” she told Time magazine.

In the Bills’ absence from the competition, MyKayla Skinner won a surprising silver medal in the jump and Sunisa Lee took gold in the all-around.

Lee told Time magazine, “What Simon did changed the way we look at our well-being, 100%. It showed us that we’re more than just a sport, that we’re human beings that we can also have tough days. It really made us human.”

Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Love and Alison Felix spoke positively about Biles’ impact this summer on profile. Mental health professionals lauded her for her actions in helping black girls and women take charge of their lives, bodies and mental health.

Time magazine named LeBron James Player of the Year in 2020 and the US women’s national soccer team in 2019. Biles was included in its list of the 100 most influential people in September.

The ‘Athlete of the Year’ honor follows Sports Illustrated’s naming of Tom Brady as Sports Personality of the Year earlier this week.

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