Opinion

Simone Biles is writing her own story now

How will the greatest gymnast ever's Tokyo Olympics end? Does it matter?

If this were a movie, we'd be in the last act. Our hero, the greatest gymnast ever, would step out onto the balance beam to the swell of the score. The audience would hold their breath, knowing what she'd overcome to reach this point — the "twisties" that made her pull from five Olympic finals, and an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish in the balance beam qualifiers that ceded her position as the event favorite to Guan Chenchen of China.

But because this is a movie, she'd also nail her routine and win the gold.

There is, of course, no such storybook finish guaranteed for Simone Biles in real life, though. The 24-year-old will make her return to the Summer Games on Tuesday while her countrymen are sleeping (4:53 a.m. ET; watch here), meaning that most of America will wake up tomorrow to the news of how her turbulent Tokyo journey — and very possibly her Olympic career — ends. 

Biles, though, doesn't need to win a gold for whatever happens in Tokyo on Tuesday to be a great, uplifting story. While sports narratives are often reductively framed by the news of a win or loss, Biles has already impressed at the Games by prioritizing her mental and physical health over the anticipation of glory she'd bring to the U.S. team. The fact that she's getting back on the proverbial horse at all (the twisties are less of a danger on the beam, where she's expected to modify her eponymous, double-twisting double back somersault dismount for something simpler) means that yes, she could potentially defend her reign as the world champion. But a repeat of her Rio 2016 bronze medal in the event would be wildly inspiring as well; even a formerly-unthinkable off-podium finish would mean she gave it her all.

There will of course be those who feel let down by anything less than a gold medal, as if Biles the gymnast somehow owes us something. But far more Biles fans will feel excitement over the gymnast putting on her Team USA leotard one final time in Tokyo, a gesture that almost means more to her legacy at this point than a slough of repeat golds otherwise might have.

And that question of legacy is important. Though Biles has previously flirted with competing in Paris in 2024, there is also a not-insignificant chance that the gymnast will decide to pursue fulfillment elsewhere going forward. A recent revealing profile in The New York Times described the toll that being the best gymnast in the world has taken on her: "You can hear it in her voice. I'm old, she says. I'm tired. Stressed out. Everything hurts." She appears as a markedly different person in her carefree photos and videos with her boyfriend, and has considered moving on to coaching. She wants to travel. She wants to find herself.

Tuesday might not be the cut-to-the-credits ending anyone would have envisioned for her. But Biles doesn't owe a photo finish to anyone. If this were a movie, yes, it'd be the moment where Biles proves all her doubters wrong. But it isn't a movie, and there will be no dramatic swelling of the score. On Tuesday, there will just be a young woman, a balance beam, and a whole, big, wide future ahead.

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