Back in January I wrote an article arguing against speculation on a possible Simone Biles comeback for Paris-2024. The premise was simple. Simone herself has given zero indication that she wants to return for Paris-2024. If she starts giving such indications, then we should have that conversation. And that’s exactly what happened.
Back in late 2020 and early 2021, Simone Biles’ rhetoric reflected someone who was giving hints that she wasn’t interested in a return for 2024. But in the past month her tone has changed, and I’m going to speculate on why I think that is. But also, why this 2024 move makes a lot of sense.
The next Olympics are in France
Simone Biles has a special connection to France thanks to her coaches Cecile Landi and Laurent Landi. The husband and wife coaching duo are former French gymnasts, with Cecile having competed at the 1996 Olympics. Cecile and Laurent Landi are relatively new coaches for Simone Biles, having only joined forces with her in the current Olympic cycle.
The relationship has been a resounding success, particularly between Simone and Cecile. At one point, Simone Biles wore a leotard during podium training which was a homage to a design once worn by Cecile in the 1990s. Because she has French coaches, there are members of Simone’s inner circle encouraging her to try for Paris-2024.
And Simone appears to be listening with numerous interviews citing this connection as why she is now interested in 2024. Going as far as to cite Cecile herself as instigating the idea. It does a lot for the mentality of an athlete when you have positive reinforcement from your coach promoting this. It also provides a reassuring tone as having a French national by her side means Simone will never have to worry about the logistical challenge of competing in a foreign country one knows little about.
Cecile Landi also acts as a liaison between Simone and the rest of the French gymnastics program. The French team has been known to visit Simone’s home club thanks in large part to Cecile and Laurent Landi. Giving Simone a unique connection with the same group of gymnasts that will certainly be in Paris-2024.
At a certain point, Simone probably has the curiosity to make an extended commitment to France given her connections to those of French descent. Experiencing the cultural heritage of the coaches who mean so much to her and the friends she has made along the way.
Or you can read Aline Friess’ shirt and the message couldn’t be any more blunt.
The Rise of World Champions Centre
Another unusual element of Simone Biles’ career is that she trains at a gym which she personally built herself. This has been a hallmark of Simone’s career for some time now as the club predates her 2016 Olympic appearance. But in recent years her club World Champions Centre (WCC) has experienced something of a boon in attracting and developing high-ranking gymnasts.
World Champions Centre had six members who competed at the 2021 U.S. National Championships senior division, while also having a 7th gymnast who is a national team member and would have been in attendance if not for an injury. This sort of success is absurd for a single club in a gymnastics super power such as the American women’s program. It would be fair to assume WCC is on the verge of a historic run of success.
This is a relatively new dynamic to Simone’s career. Prior to Covid-19, Simone had competed as a loner, without a high level training partner by her side. After six years of going it alone, this new dimension of having a team around her has probably rejuvenated Simone. Rather than competing by herself, Simone has fellow gymnasts by her side to experience the moment.
Winning time and time again probably gets boring after doing it for as long as Simone has. Now Biles is attending competitions while being able to enjoy watching one of her clubmates have success for the first time, and getting to share that moment with them. This isn’t so much something we can speculate on, but something we have seen first hand while watching Simone on the sideline. She cheers her clubmates on while they compete, while also helping them on the sideline when they need guidance from a veteran role model.
Just imagine what this must do for Simone’s mentality during the day-to-day grunt work that is the daily practice sessions. It is a lot easier to get through that in the coming years when training alongside a group of friends who provide both a fun atmosphere, while giving Simone a relatively new training environment. Keeping Simone Biles going for the future.
It is only three years away
One of the few benefits of Covid-19 for the athletes is that the next Olympic “quad” will only be three years. Allowing athletes to endure one less year of high-level training before they make their Olympic return. That is only three more years Simone has to commit herself to an athlete lifestyle where she has to be careful what she eats, dealing with WADA drug testing policies, and avoiding high risk activities which may lead to a non-gymnastics injury.
This is rather self explanatory, but there is another component to this story which makes it even more appealing that is often overlooked.
Simone would most likely skip 2022, and return for 2023 and 2024 if she tries for Paris. This would give her a 1-year hiatus to come back from. One of the most overlooked accomplishments of Simone’s career is her mastery of the “hiatus.” For every gymnast who goes on hiatus and has a successful comeback, there are many more who take a hiatus and struggle upon their return.
Simone has taken an off year in 2017 and perhaps you can count 2020 as well. On both occasions Biles came back the following year without missing a beat. The reason so many gymnasts struggle with the hiatus is because they don’t know exactly when to make their return. Come back too early and you risk premature burnout. Come back too late and you may find yourself unprepared by the time Olympic Trials come around.
Simone knows her body, she knows her training template, and with two successful examples in the past, it could be argued there is no gymnast in the world who is better prepared/experienced for the precise timeline the 2022-2024 quad requires.
Another benefit is that the overwhelming majority of gymnasts who take a planned absence do so while missing elite level competition in two consecutive years or more. Under a 2-year hiatus that is a lengthy amount of time for the human body to regress and a far riskier proposition than the 1-year hiatus.
Yet most gymnasts avoid the 1-year hiatus as a tactic because to be frank, only Simone Biles has demonstrated the talent to regain old form as quickly as she had done in 2017 while winning an All-Around title. Most gymnasts need more time in the gym upon their return to gain back their old skills. But many are also burned out mentally when they took a break and need a longer length of time away from the sport to recover mentally as well.
Why is the 1-year hiatus so unheard of despite being a safer option in terms of avoiding regression? For a combination of both mental and physical reasons, gymnasts have less incentive to do it. The tactic doesn’t fit well in a 4-year cycle. But in a 3-year cycle, the tactic makes a lot of sense. And Simone has excelled in this tactic better than anyone else.