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With her her 8th U.S. Championship win, Simone Biles is still the gymnastics GOAT

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Simone Biles is still the GOAT - that is, the greatest of all time. The gymnastics star won her eighth U.S. championship last night - that is a record - 10 years after she first ascended to the top of her sport as a teenaged prodigy. This one comes after Biles stepped back from the sport in the middle of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, citing a need to focus on her mental health. This year, she's back as strong as ever. Camonghne Felix is here. She's written about Simone Biles for The Cut. Hey. Welcome back.

CAMONGHNE FELIX: Hey. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: OK, so Simone Biles winning her eighth U.S championship. That is a record. And we should just point out Biles is the first American gymnast of any gender to do so. Just how big of a deal is this?

FELIX: This is a huge deal, especially following her removing herself from the sport after a really harrowing trial up against her abuser and USA Gymnastics.

SUMMERS: And just to clarify here, you were talking about the fact that in 2018, Simone Biles revealed that she had been sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. And she testified to a Senate committee in 2021 about that abuse, right?

FELIX: Yes. It means a lot to see her remove herself and then return again on top of her game, continuing to dominate the arena. It goes to show that a little bit of self-care can go a really long way.

SUMMERS: What stood out to you about her performance over the weekend to the degree that you were able to see some of it?

FELIX: I was most surprised by her near-perfect landing of the Yurchenko double pike, which is a vault so difficult that no other woman has done it, and very few men try. She continues to push herself in a way that is inspiring and bewildering. Goes to show that she is nowhere near retirement. She has a lot more to give, and she's ready to keep pushing.

SUMMERS: Yeah, I mean, when you wrote about Simone Biles back in 2021 for The Cut, that was after a dangerous mental block, which is known in gymnastics as the twisties, forced her to withdraw from several events at the Tokyo Olympics that year. And I'm curious, what stood out to you in your conversations with her then about how she thought about herself, how she thought about her sport?

FELIX: You could tell that she was really injured, that there was something going on inside, that she didn't even really have the ability to articulate something that is communicated through affect, through the way that her body sat in the chair, through the way that she was sometimes unable to look at me as she recalled some of the worst moments of her life. And anyone who is incredibly ambitious, who has a sport or a skill or a craft that they care a lot about, knows the pain that comes with feeling like you're not able to show up as your full self within your work because of something that happened to you that was not your fault that you didn't have control over.

SUMMERS: I mean, you spent quite a bit of time immersed in her world and getting to know Simone Biles for that profile back in 2021. What have you been thinking about in the years since and specifically while watching her return to competition this year?

FELIX: I've been thinking a lot about that very key moment towards the end of the profile where her resolve breaks, and she starts to cry a little bit. To me, that was one of the bravest moments and one of the most powerful moments that we spent together because it showed that she was both in touch with her emotions and that she was willing to be vulnerable with the public to show them just how she'd been affected by all of this. It's made me really invest in vulnerability in my own practices, in considering that what it means to be good or successful or competitive actually means that you are the most vulnerable with yourself and with the people around you while still holding on to that competitive resolve that allows you to get up and really go for it every day.

SUMMERS: Given what we saw from Simone Biles over the weekend, do you think it's likely that we're going to see her at the Olympics again in Paris in 2024?

FELIX: I think it's incredibly likely. She is on top of her game. She seems to feel a lot more confident in her body, feels a lot more confident in the air. And I think she would love an opportunity to go back to the Olympics while being able to actually revel in that safeness in her body and to know that when she goes up for the competition that she'll actually be able to land.

SUMMERS: Camonghne Felix telling us about Simone Biles after she's won her record-breaking eighth U.S all-around gymnastics championship. Camonghne, thank you so much.

FELIX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.