For the first time, Simone Biles is addressing whether the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar impacted her performance at the 2020 Olympics, where she withdrew from several events, citing her mental health.
"Now that I think about it, maybe in the back of my head, probably, yes, because there are certain triggers," she told TODAY's Hoda Kotb in an interview that aired Wednesday. "You don't even know, and I think it could have."
The 24-year-old athlete said before the Games back in April that part of the reason she wanted to compete in Tokyo was to advocate for change in her sport. Because many of the other survivors of Nassar's abuse, including McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, are retired from gymnastics, she said at the time that she hoped her continued presence in competitions given her large following would make officials feel like "they have to do something."
In Wednesday's interview, she said that this pressure weighed on her "a little bit."
"But I knew that still being the face of gymnastics and the USA and everything we brought, it's not going to be buried under the rug, and it will still be a very big conversation," she explained. "So we still have to protect those athletes and figure out why it happened, who knew what when."
Last week, Biles made global headlines when she announced she was withdrawing from the women's gymnastics team final after only competing on vault. She told Hoda on TODAY at the time that she was struggling emotionally, later sharing that she had the "twisties," when gymnasts get lost mid-air while performing a move, making it difficult to land safely. Biles also withdrew from all of the individual event finals that she qualified for, except for the balance beam, where she took home bronze on Tuesday.
"Physically, I feel good, I'm in shape," she said on TODAY last week. "Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn't an easy feat, so we're just trying to take it one day at a time and we'll see."
In January 2018, ahead of Nassar's sentencing hearing, Biles shared on social media that she had been abused by Nassar, writing, "For too long I have asked myself, 'Was I too naive? Was it my fault?' I now know the answers to those questions. No. No, it was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG (USA Gymnastics), and others."
She's opened up about the abuse several times since, most recently in an episode of her Facebook Watch show, "Simone vs. Herself," released in July. She recalled how she was driving near her home in Houston when she became filled with emotion due to the pain of the experience.
"I just remember breaking down and calling my mom," Biles said. "She told me to pull over. She was like, 'Can you drive?' because I was crying so hard."
"I was super depressed, and I didn't want to leave my room, and I didn't want to go anywhere and I kind of just shut everybody out," she added.
Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018 after more than 150 victims came forward to make statements about being sexually abused by him.