Exclusive Q&A: Simone Biles on food cravings, her boyfriend and late-night hospital trips
Simone Biles made history by becoming the first woman to win four all-around titles at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha.
It was one of the more challenging days of Biles' career, dealing with pain from a kidney stone and falls from the beam and the vault to secure victory.
The 21-year-old reveals more about her Doha hospital experience, her strange food cravings and how she met boyfriend Stacey Ervin Jr.
Last night you won your fourth world all-around title, but it didn't go quite how you had planned. How do you feel about it now?
This morning I’m a little bit more at ease because I know I went in and did the best I could for yesterday’s performance and hopefully today will have a different outcome and you know I don’t make those same mistakes.
You had a scare earlier this week when you had to visit the Emergency Room with a kidney stone. How are you feeling now?
Right now most of my pain comes from my lower back where the kidney stone sits so we’ll get that evaluated once we get back home in the States and we’ll go from there but it’s manageable.
Was there a moment when you thought you might not be able to compete due to your kidney stone?
Yeah a little bit, but then I was like you know what I have to do this for my team first and then hopefully try to get through team finals and then see what else to come because team is most important so if I had to give up some of my placements or some of my event finals it would be OK - a little bit saddening - as I trained so long for this.
But other than that it would be OK and I was just hoping that I wouldn’t pass it so, as bad as it is, good thing that it’s a bit bigger so that I can’t pass it.
Tom Forster said there was a line-up for the team final with you in it and without you in it. How proud of the other girls are you that they were ready to roll whatever your status was?
I think that’s definitely very important for the girls to have a line-up just like that because you never know in some of those situations and nobody ever thought we’d come here and I’d have to go to the ER in the middle of the night and get a kidney stone.
So you really have to be on top of your toes and ready for whatever’s thrown at them so really proud that they handled it very well.
There's a lot of talk about you as the greatest gymnast of all time, while yesterday Nancy Armour wrote in USA Today that you're the greatest athlete of all time in any sport. Do you think that your victory yesterday despite the problems you had shows how good you really are?
I think it shows the difficulty of gymnastics that I have is in a good place. There’s still more to work on but as for the greatest athlete of all time, I think it’s hard to put that placement on it because you have basketball players or baseball players, they have a longer season than us.
We go out seven times a year so it’s a little bit harder and I think that’s why people go back and forth with the debate but then if you take it a shorter span of how many times I have to deliver, most of the time it comes out at a pretty good ratio.
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After your fall, Mai Murakami said she didn't necessarily think there was an opening for her, but was just surprised to see you fall. What is it like competing with her and Morgan Hurd and the rest of the girls at the top?
It was so exciting yesterday. I had a bit of down moments where I just wanted to be left alone in there or try to encourage myself and be like, 'You know what? It’s OK, Simone', and I knew in those moments it was going to be OK, but I was just disappointed with my performance.
But it’s just such a good group of girls that we have out there and the team spirit that we share even though we’re all from different countries.
How is your friendship with Morgan? It seems to have blossomed in Doha and you guys have been attached at the hip.
It’s definitely a little better than earlier this year and I’m really happy for that and she’s a really good competitor and an athlete and a person as well. Her personality is very brightening, it kind of reminds me a little bit of me when I was younger.
She tries to take it a day at a time and tries to have fun in the moments while doing her job. She knows that on the side you can goof off but once it’s time to compete you have to deliver.
She said you guys had bonded over sending pictures back and forth. Can you tell us more about that?
We are obsessed with food and for some reason every time I go to a World Championships I get more obsessed with cinnamon rolls. Why? I don’t know, I maybe have one a year if that.
But food brings everyone together, especially at World Championships because we just get so excited because everything looks so good and it’s around the holidays so I think that’s what makes the food obsession a little bit more crazier.
It was a brilliant moment when she hopped on your back for a piggy back. What was happening?
We were joking and she was like ,'I’m so tired I can’t walk' and then she’s like, 'Wait maybe I should give you the piggy back because you’re the one with the kidney stone and can barely walk sometimes', and it’s just a joking manner but it made for cute pictures.
You started back in the gym almost exactly a year ago. Cecile (Canqueteau-Landi, USA coach) said that in the beginning you were doing a lot of work with sponsors and were in and out of the gym. She said you would quit every three days. How hard was it in the beginning?
It was hard to get back in the rhythm because every time I got back in the rhythm, I would leave. And so every time I would come back it was almost like I had to restart and I know it was frustrating for Cecile and Laurent (Landi) because they put in the work for those days and then I would have to take off, come back and then start over.
So it was a little bit frustrating because I’m like 'Well if I have to start over every time why don’t I just quit', and it was hard at some points.
There would be times when I would be on beam and I would look to Cecile and I would be like, 'I don’t know what my purpose is here, I don’t know why I’m here, I feel like I’m being forced to do this by myself and by other people', so I really had to find my purpose for it and really make sure I was doing it because I wanted to, and I definitely found that.
How do you think you’ve changed in the last year?
I feel like I don’t let my focus be gymnastics 24/7. I try to spend time with my family and go to different outings. So I find ways to refuel myself rather than just gas myself out in the gym. And my sports therapist has always said, 'You are in the gym all the time, you need to find other things that fuel you. Yes, gym does fuel you but, outside, you need other things that you need to be passionate and have fun with.'
And I took a step back and I was like, 'You know what, you are right. Why can’t I go to the beach? Why can’t I go shopping? Why can’t I have a girls day with our friends and refuel myself that way?' Instead of just sitting at home and trying to rest.
And you girls here at Doha have had some opportunities to not just sit in your room. Tell me about that.
Yes, it's actually really exciting because once you sit in your room you kind of just think of your gymnastics all day long on repeat. And I feel a lot of us don’t function that way. There are different ways where we function so we try to go out to the pool. We try to go out to the spa and different things like that.
Even if it’s just going to the market and passing by the candy section and just looking. It refuels you and at least it's out of the hotel so that your mind is not focused on gymnastics because at this high level you don’t want to over-power it.
And last year you have found your voice. You had the tweet that closed the Ranch (the Karolyi Ranch training centre where Larry Nassar abused athletes). You weren't afraid to say to (former USA Gymnastics President Kerry Perry) that she needed to speak up. At nationals, right before we came here, we had the tweet about (former interim president) Mary Bono. You have been very specific in the moments you have chosen to do that, so what about those moments made you want to speak up?
I think in those specific moments you need to use your voice in a positive manner as long as it doesn’t draw negative attention. And you really stick to what you are saying and what you believe in.
I think that it’s OK and in those moments I felt like I needed to speak up so people would hear and it would encourage other people to share their thoughts on it and you have to choose your battles wisely. I try not to nit-pick everything but if I see something I don’t like then you are quick to grab your phone and be like 'I am going to tweet something.'
But you have to smart with your words too so it doesn’t come off in the wrong way. So I try to do that. And as soon as I did the Mary Bono tweet my Mom got a little upset. And then realised that it was in a good manner. Then she was really proud (laughs).
Are you aware of the fact that when you send that tweet the world is going to explode...
It’s powerful. Yes. It is scary in that way because I choose what I do wisely and I know that it's going to have a very big impact. On the decisions that have to come forth so I have to be wise as well. But she also made that decision to put that out there. So she has to be ready for whatever feedback she got.
So switching gears. Your boyfriend Stacy Ervin – he has been pretty active on Twitter – he agreed you were super human the other day. How has his support helped you?
It means the world and I love him to death and he’s one of my biggest supporters as well as my family and it’s really good to have him on my side and understand the sport and the training that we go through and to have such a big outcome.
He was reminding me last night, 'Hey, I know you are disappointed but try not to be like… you brought back another medal for yourself and for the U.S.’ So it really pained him to see me so upset after such a big win.
How does a guy first approach Simone Biles? How does this happen? Did you make the first move?
OK, so you know how there are two different sides to every story. Mine was – I remember telling him that he was cute one year – then I didn’t hear from him for a year. But you know they always come back around – it’s fine, it’s fine. But he was like, ‘No, I don’t remember that. I just remember this’.
He would always say, ‘I want to come and play in your gym. And I am like, 'Yeah – that’s fine because you’re in Austin and I’m in Houston so it’s not that far.'
And then he was like, 'I’m not really sure that I am loving my job. Maybe I should coach some kids on the boys team. Do you have any openings?' I talked to my mom and then I said, 'Sure, whatever, come down.'
So he made the first move once he got to Houston?
Kind of. Because when he came down for the job interview we went out for lunch just to catch up and then we realised there was a spark.
You have done everything there is to do in the sport, right? Do you feel that gives you more pressure or less pressure? Because in the lead up to Rio you weren’t an Olympian, you weren't an Olympic champion. Does that give you more or less pressure?
It depends which way you look at it. Sometimes it’s less pressure because I do have all of those accomplishments to back me up. But then on another scale it gives me more pressure because I have to live up to all of those accomplishments and standards.
Someone said to me the other day, 'Why would she go to 2019 Worlds? Why wouldn’t she just sit it out ahead of Tokyo?' I know that’s not what you were thinking – how important is it for you to go into Tokyo as world champion?
No, it’s definitely important because you have to prove once again and you have to prove to your delegation that you are worthy of them putting you on such a big stage. Putting out those routines and hitting them. I think it’s important and I would never want to sit it out.
Everyone is like, ‘Just take another year off, you came back and you won it’s fine.' But you also need that confidence going into the Olympics, the World Championships, knowing, 'You know what? Six months ago I was at Worlds and I hit my sets.' And it’s always an experience. And you need that international experience and the confidence.
Do you think you are going to continue to add some more elements as you head towards Tokyo?
We are definitely hoping so. My body is holding up pretty well. So we will see how it goes.
And the big question. You've got two more days of competition left – how are you going to celebrate?
OK, so we get home Sunday at like 1pm and my mom wants to have a party and I’m like, ‘Er, I don’t think jet lag works that way, Mom.’ But we’ll see.
So I didn’t really answer the family group text because I am like, ‘I might be asleep. You guys can party without me. But let’s try again the next weekend.’ We always have a worlds party.