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Simone Biles returning to Olympics to be a voice for abuse survivors

The most decorated gymnast of all time has a powerful reason for returning to Olympic competition in Tokyo this summer.
/ Source: TODAY

Simone Biles' decision to return and compete at this summer's Tokyo Olympics was about more than adding to the stack of gold medals that has made her the most decorated gymnast of all time.

Biles, 24, wants to use her spotlight to keep pushing for change within the sport in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

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The four-time Olympic gold medalist is one of hundreds of gymnasts to say she was abused by Nassar — a group that includes her former Team USA teammates McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, all of whom are now retired from competition.

"I just feel like everything that happened, I had to come back to the sport to be a voice, to have change happen," Biles told Hoda Kotb in an interview that aired on TODAY Wednesday. "Because I feel like if there weren't a remaining survivor in the sport, they would've just brushed it to the side.

"But since I'm still here, and I have quite a social media presence and platform, they have to do something. So I feel like coming back, gymnastics just wasn't the only purpose I was supposed to do."

Nassar is now serving life in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault of minors and child pornography charges. Biles wants to implement guardrails within the sport to ensure that no future gymnast ever has to endure what she and others went through.

She admittedly wanted to compete in this summer's Olympics to continue a legendary career after the games were postponed a year due to the pandemic, but she soon realized it was about more than that.

"I don't think I knew it, either, but I feel like gymnastics wasn't the only thing I was supposed to come back for," she said.

Wednesday marks 100 days until the Tokyo Olympics, where Biles will be an elder statesman in a sport that skews dramatically young, with teenagers routinely being the top competitors.

At just 24, Biles would be the oldest American woman in history to win the all-around Olympic gold if she defends her all-around title from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"They have less years than me," she told Hoda. "So I feel like they're a little bit fresher. They can recover quicker."

Biles was once a teen gymnastics phenom herself. Now she's the veteran trying to fend them off on the medal stand.

"Every day, I'm reminded of my age here," she said. "The kids remind me how old I am every day.

"Yesterday, we were in practice. And they were like, 'Simone, how long have you been doing this sport?' And I was like, '17 years.' And they were like, 'I'm not even 17 yet! Some of my teammates aren't even 17 yet.' And I'm like, 'Thank you.'"

Regardless, Biles is still the one to beat in Tokyo. She has been so far ahead of the field that her biggest competition is often herself.

"For me, I think it's more stressful whenever I go out and compete because I'm trying to be better than I was at the last meet," she said. "So I'm trying to beat myself. And sometimes, you get caught up in that moment.

"And it's just scary because I go out and I'm like, 'Can I do it again? Can I be this good? And can I repeat what I did last year, last time, last Olympics?' And I feel like that's what motivates me, is to strive to be better than I was before, because of all the doubters or even all the supporters. It's a thrill."

So is she actually beatable?

"I don't know," she said. "You just never know. But if I'm at the top of my game, I feel like it would be very hard."

The 19-time world champion just knows she's not done pushing the limits of gymnastics yet.

"I knew I had more to give to the sport, for myself," she said. "And I felt like I had a purpose. And now, I feel like I do, and it's to be a voice for the younger generation. And I feel like I've done that, so I feel like just God called me."