An ESPN The Magazine collaboration. Daylight goes by fast in Doha. Jet lag clings, but not to the elite gymnasts who land days ahead and resist luscious naps. It’s October warm in the blockaded country of Qatar, and Simone Biles is somewhere in a state-of-the-art all-women’s wing of a hospital taking Aleve for a kidney stone.
A champion. Not fearless. But unafraid to cling on for dear life. Simone defy all of the gymnastics narratives—length of career, race of participants, definitions of “artistic,” definitions of an athlete. To quote an artist Biles has on her photo shoot playlist via a Frank Ocean Tyler, the Creator song: Biles is already home. She won Doha, she’ll be in Stuttgart for worlds in 2019, and in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics too, but Simone is in the Hall already. If Andy were alive, Simone would be a Warhol already.
And after the Tokyo Summer Games, she’s done. “I’ll retire [then],” she says. “It’s just too much on my body.”
No Copenhagen Worlds in 2021 and definitely no Games of the XXXIII Olympiad—Paris 2024. “Mm-mm,” she says, shaking her head slowly. No. “It’s not that easy.”