It’s been seven weeks since Simone Biles donned a leotard and headed to her Houston, Texas-area gym, World Champions Centre, but the American superstar is ‘back at it.’
“It was weird coaching in a mask,” 1996 Olympian Cecile Landi, who along with husband Laurent has coached Biles since 2017, told Olympic Channel. “But it was good to see the team.”
The return to training comes as parts of the United States begin to reopen. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Monday that the state had entered ‘phase 2’ of a plan to reopen the state, and the move allowed more businesses to reopen, including child care facilities, youth clubs and sports facilities.
World Champions Centre has put in place precautions and procedures, from several deep cleanings and personal chalk buckets for each athlete to marks on the floor reminding them to stay six feet apart, in order to minimize risk.
In a pre-coronavirus world, Biles had planned to spend this week in final preparations for the first of three U.S. competitions that culminate in the U.S. Olympic Trials and the announcement of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
With those competitions postponed until 2021 and a forced break from practice, she’s getting her feet wet in the gym instead.
“We did a little bit of conditioning, some bars basics and beam basics,” said Landi. “All of them were getting up on the beam and they were like, ‘I don’t remember it being that skinny and really high!’”
Biles is not a complete stranger to a break in training. After winning four golds and one bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, Biles stepped away from the sport for more than a year. When she resumed consistent training in early 2018, her new coaches wasted no time.
“In the beginning I thought like my very first day, I would at least come in, do some conditioning, leave, not be here six hours,” she told USA Gymnastics in April 2018.
Instead, Laurent Landi got the greatest female gymnast of all time back in action almost immediately.
“I was telling Laurent, ‘You know, I haven’t run down a vault run way since my Olympic vaults and I’m terrified,’” she said with her trademark giggle.
“He’s like, ‘Great. We’re going over [the vault] and you’re doing layouts.’”
“We’re going to take it a bit slower this time around,” said Landi of Monday’s practice.
Part of that pacing comes from that – until two months ago – Biles had planned to move away from the sport in August after what would likely have been a history making turn at the Tokyo Olympics. But with the Games pushed back a year due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Biles’ timeline has shifted.
It was a difficult change to wrap her head around at first, though she’s doing better mentally says Landi.
“At first, we talked a little bit about it – it was mostly on her, if you want to talk about it we’ll be here,” the coach said. “In the end, in her head, she knew she couldn’t be done right now. She had to finish it.
“I’d tell her, ‘I know. I know it sucks. I know it’s hard. I know it’s not fair,’” Landi continued. “But there’s bigger issues in the world right now and that’s what we need to focus on. I think seeing the magnitude of this virus gave her perspective to say, ‘Ok, one more year? It’s really not that big of a deal in a lifetime.’”
“I feel that I didn't come this far to just give up,” Biles said in an interview with BBC Sport last month, “and I want to be the one who makes the decision if I'm done with the sport or not."