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Months after the Olympics, Simone Biles says she's 'still scared to do gymnastics'

Simone Biles performs during the Gold Over America Tour. In an interview, she says she is still not performing twists.
Katharine Lotze
Getty Images
Simone Biles performs during the Gold Over America Tour. In an interview, she says she is still not performing twists.

After a turbulent summer in which she withdrew from most of her events at the Olympics and gave emotional testimony before Congress about being abused by a team doctor, Simone Biles says she is "still scared to do gymnastics."

In an interview Thursday with TODAY, Biles grew emotional and said she is still affected by the "twisties," a mental phenomenon in gymnastics in which athletes find themselves suddenly unable to perform familiar skills.

Biles has been back on the mat for the last month, starring in a touring gymnastics show called the Gold Over America Tour.

But twists — the high-complexity skills that helped earn her four Olympic golds and many more world medals — still feel unsafe for her, she said.

"To do something that I've done forever and just not be able to do it because of everything I've gone through is really crazy because I love this sport so much," Biles said, growing tearful. "I don't think people understand the magnitude of what I go through, but for so many years to go through everything that I've gone through having a front, I'm proud of myself."

Biles was perhaps the single-most anticipated Olympic athlete ahead of this summer's Tokyo Games, with analysts and fans hoping she could repeat — or even improve upon — her four-gold performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But after a series of mishaps during the qualification trials, then a botched vault during the first rotation of the team final, Biles suddenly withdrew from several events, citing "mental health" issues and ultimately describing her problem as the "twisties."

"I had no idea where I was in the air. You can literally see it in my eyes in pictures. I was petrified," Biles said in a previous interview with TODAY after the conclusion of the Olympic gymnastic events in August.

She returned for the balance beam individual final, in which she won bronze.

Her outspokenness about the importance of her mental health drew support from around the sports world, including from Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka and Aaron Rodgers.

Last month, Biles was among the gymnasts who appeared before Congress to testify about the FBI's failures in investigating the case of Larry Nassar, the U.S. Gymnastics team doctor who was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young women and girls, including Biles. Nassar was later convicted for his crimes.

In that hearing, Biles broke down into tears as she spoke about the abuse she experienced.

"To go through something like that and to be a voice for all of the survivors and people who want to come forward and talk about their stories, it's really inspiring," Biles said Thursday. "But it's hard that I have to go through it, because again people form their own opinions and I don't really get to say what's going on."

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.