One of the world’s greatest athletes of all time Simone Biles takes the cover story of WSJ. Magazine‘s July 2021 digital edition, lensed by fashion photographer Rahim Fortune. In charge of styling was Jessica Willis, with beauty from hair stylist Tylaria Thomas, and makeup artist Cinthia Moore.
We can have a voice for things that we believe in, rather than just focus on the court, focus in the gym. We’re human too. Everybody expects me to speak out, but I kind of do it whenever I’m ready, in a good mental place, because it is a lot at the end of the day, and it does spark a very big conversation – Simone Biles
Nellie Biles, Simone’s mother, on how they’ve managed to handle Tevin’s case:
“You would never know, because we never discuss [Tevin’s case] outside the family,” Nellie Biles said in an interview while they were in Indianapolis. “Simone goes to work, I go to work, and you would never know that there’s something really mentally bothering us…, because we have our own jobs to do, and we go and we do those things.”
Biles on her remarkable rise:
“I wouldn’t say I thought ’13 was a fluke. But I was like, ‘Oh, whatever, I won; next year somebody else will be the winner.’ And then ’14 happened and I won, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh; what is happening?’ And then ’15 happened, and I was like, ‘Who am I? This could be really good. I could make the Olympic team!’”
Biles on worries she may have peaked in 2016:
“In 2016, I thought I’d hit the peak of my career, and I was like, ‘How can I get any better than that?’” Biles says. “And so I was really nervous walking into the gym,” consoling herself with the idea that 10 or 15 years later, she’d want to know she’d given it a shot. When she came back, she picked new coaches.
Cecile Landi, who, along with her husband Laurent, currently coach Biles, on their focus with the gymnast:
They brought Biles back to some gymnastics fundamentals. “She was young and she didn’t really need the technique; she had the power,” says Cecile Landi. To stay above everyone else—and maybe rise even higher—“she had to improve on her technique because that’s the only thing that’s going to keep you safe, especially when you get older.”
Biles on how she feels about performing gymnastics now:
“Now I can enjoy my gymnastics. It’s really up to me,” she says. “And that probably also comes along with how many titles I’ve won and everything I’ve established. It’s like, OK, well, the facts are on the paper. I feel like now I don’t have to prove anything to anybody…. I’m trying to level up.”
Cecile Landi on Biles’s opinion of the USA Gymnastics [USAG], which she is suing:
When the enormity of the Nassar scandal was first coming out, Cecile Landi says, she and Laurent had to adapt Biles’s training to account for the toll it was taking on her. “Nowadays, not so much,” she says. “She’s more able to put it aside.
“She talks to me a lot about how she’s tired of [USAG]. I keep telling her, ‘You know, you are not representing USAG; you are representing yourself and your country, and this is who you should worry about, and you don’t owe USAG anything,” Landi says. “But she’s more confident now that, ‘You know what, they screwed up and I’m not going to care what they have to say; I’m just going to do me.’”
Biles on continuing to speak out about the abuse she and her fellow gymnasts endured:
“In 2018 I kind of realized, ‘Wow, I’m one of the only remaining survivors in the sport,’” she says. “They can’t brush that under the rug, and they can’t stop talking about it.”
Biles on her new boyfriend:
As the pandemic began, she started a new relationship with NFL player Jonathan Owens after spotting him online and sending a direct message.
“He would say I slid into his DMs. I saw him and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s pretty cute,’ so I said hi…and then I saw that he was in the Houston area, so we started chatting a little bit, and then we went to hang out a week or two later.”
After about three weeks of watching the two flirt, Biles’s sister Adria grabbed her phone while she and Owens were FaceTiming and asked if he was going to join a planned trip to a lake house. He came with his dog, an English bulldog, Zeus, who got on with Biles’s French bulldog, Lilo (Biles added Rambo, another French bulldog, to the mix during the pandemic). As fears of the virus eased and warmer weather came, the Bileses’ Sunday-evening dinners resumed, in person and outdoors. Owens was invited to join.
Biles on her activism and deciding when to use her voice:
“We can have a voice for things that we believe in, rather than just focus on the court, focus in the gym. We’re human too.”
“Everybody expects me to speak out, but I kind of do it whenever I’m ready, in a good mental place, because it is a lot at the end of the day, and it does spark a very big conversation,” she says.
Biles on looking beyond gymnastics:
“I feel like for all these years I’ve kind of let gymnastics do the talking, and I’ve kind of stamped my position there,” she says. “So at the end of the day, I can say I’ve done it all, and more.”
Photography © Rahim Fortune for WSJ. Magazine, read more at wsj.com