By Ronda Racha Penrice | July 23, 2021
“Time To Let Yourself Fly,” United Airlines’ Olympic campaign slogan, seems tailor-made for one of its most well-known ambassador—Simone Biles. Bars, beams, floor routines, or the vault, Biles literally flies, soars even. Her power is what defines her most. And that’s not just in competition, but in real life too.
Speaking with EBONY virtually just before boarding her United flight to Tokyo, Biles, a member of the EBONY Power 100 2016 class who graced her own EBONY cover that same year after winning four gold medals in the Rio Olympics in Brazil, was calm and and collected. That was not quite the case five years ago with Rio, she shared. “I was scared,” Biles said of her first Olympic experience. “I feel like there were a lot of outside expectations on me that I couldn’t control.”
In Tokyo, she’s a returning champion with 30 medals, on the verge of surpassing Vitaly Scherbo’s 33 medals and Larisa Latynina’s 32 medals, according to Sports Illustrated, to become the world’s most decorated gymnast of all time. While individual success is great, Biles is also serious about being a team player and leader, which is an important and rare position for this Olympics she shared. “It’s a different team than 2016,” she explained. “Most of them [referring to her Rio Olympics teammates] have left the sport and done other things. Some went to college and stuff like that. So now it’s a different team, but I’m really excited.”
This Olympics, Black women have been really feeling the heat. A swim cap designed for Black hair was banned. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry was heavily criticized for protesting the National Anthem. To the dismay of many, Sha’Carri Richardson, who triumphantly won the Olympic Trials in June, was pulled from the U.S. Olympic track team after testing positive for marijuana and will not run in Tokyo. Some have even criticized Biles, who hasn’t lost in eight years, for being too dominant in gymnastics, prompting Jemele Hill to write a response in The Atlantic pointing out how the sport has tried to penalize Biles’s greatness.