What's it like being the greatest of all time? To be the most decorated gymnast in history constantly perfecting mind-blowing moves so challenging that no one else has ever even attempted them? To be constantly breaking world records and upping your own game?
Just ask four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, who is currently training for her second Olympic Games in Tokyo next month. Sure, being the G.O.A.T. at something is probably pretty, well, great. (Her leotards are even embossed with a rhinestone goat head to remind everyone of all her greatness and glory.) But there's no doubt that it also comes with copious amounts of pressure.
Biles currently holds 30 combined Olympic and World Championship medals, just broke another record over the weekend with a seventh national women's all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, and practically perfected the notoriously difficult and never-before-attempted Yurchenko double pike vault. But she still finds herself on the other end of criticism, critique, and social media hate.
So during an interview about cult skincare brand SK-II's "VS" Series - a collection of six animated short films based on the real-life experiences, challenges, and animosity faced by six different Olympic athletes preparing for the Tokyo games that premiered last month - Biles opened up to us about the trolls she faces every day.
"I faced trolls growing up in the sport and kind of learned how to shut those out and just be my own person," she told InStyle. "And at the end of the day, I'm grateful, I love everything about myself, and I'm proud of who I am inside and out. Especially being younger and being made fun of for how I look, my shoulders being too big, or this and that, because it's gotten me to where I am today."
Of course, Biles isn't the only young superstar athlete who has to deal with the negativity of the media, the internet, or the industry as a whole. Tennis Star Naomi Osaka recently made headlines after dropping out of the French Open due to mental health reasons, making abundantly clear how far we fall short in supporting women when they attempt to set boundaries. The situation highlighted how insanely taxing it is to be in the spotlight while also trying to excel at your sport, and Biles knows that pressure all too well. The gymnast says she does her best to tune it out.
"I feel like anybody in the public eye deals with that on a daily basis," Biles says. "But I try not to look at comments, which definitely helps. And I also feel like they wouldn't say that to you in person, and they shouldn't put unrealistic pressures [on you] to look or act a certain way. And then I just brush it off because at the end of the day, here." ("Here" referring to being the record-breaking, gravity-defying greatest gymnast of all time who continues to change the sport.)
But besides just letting the negativity roll off her back, her other coping mechanism seems a little too obvious: Biles simply doesn't even have the time to sweat the small stuff. She's too busy keeping her head in the game as she prepares for the 2021 Olympics that are finally happening in July after being postponed last year due to COVID. Biles tells us she's looking forward to getting back out on the global stage and being around other like-minded and hard-working athletes at the peak of their sport.
"I think I can speak for myself and other athletes: we're all ready to show what we've been working on for so long and get out there and represent our countries," she says. "I'm super excited about it. I know it'll be different, not like the Olympics we've ever had before, but I also think that's what makes it special too."
And this time around, she's going to try to savor the experience, and not take any moment for granted - something the pandemic forced all of us to do. "The last Olympics, I was pretty young," she says. "You stay in the village, so you're always motivated, ready, and on top of your game. You don't even get to relish and live in the moment, but this time I'm really looking forward to that."
Biles may be the most decorated gymnast in history, but above all, she says she hopes her perseverance and success can inspire other young women and aspiring athletes to embrace themselves and never let any naysayers bring them down or limit their greatness.
"It doesn't matter where you came from; it matters where you're going," she tells InStyle. "And no matter the societal pressure, you take destiny into your own hands. I hope [to] encourage women and young girls to just pursue that destiny, no matter the challenges they face along the way, do what feels right, and follow your own path."