By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Simone Biles believes U.S gymnastics is moving in a positive direction after the “dark place” it found itself in a year ago following a sex-abuse scandal.
The Texas-based 22-year-old, winner of a record-equaling four gold medals at the Rio Olympics, was one of more than 100 gymnasts who say they were abused by former Gymnastics USA doctor Larry Nassar who was jailed last year.
Gymnastics USA was criticized for failing to safeguard the welfare of its athletes and the subject of dozens of lawsuits by victims of Nassar.
Speaking ahead of the Superstars of Gymnastics event taking place in London on Saturday, Biles, who said next year’s Olympics in Tokyo will “definitely” be her last, said she was encouraged by their response.
“We are all very hopeful that they (Gymnastics USA) are making the right decisions so that we can kind of get out of that dark place,” Biles told Reuters close to the O2 Arena which will host Saturday’s event.
Biles received widespread admiration when going public about being abused by Nassar and was, along with other victims, awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage award.
“The response has been good and encouraging, knowing that its kind of relateable in a way,” she said. “But you know, you have to pick and choose your battles wisely.
“I think my actions have given other athletes a way to know that they are not alone and (abuse) does happen, so they don’t have to be in the dark about everything.”
Biles, heralded as the greatest gymnast of all time, will perform exhibition routines at the Superstars of Gymnastics event, with her role chiefly as part of the judging-panel that will use an “out of 10” scoring system.
It will be a light-hearted distraction before the serious business of the countdown to Tokyo.
She admits to tough times since returning to action from a two-year break although her four golds at the world championships in Doha showed she was back to her dazzling best.
“The muscle memory is there, but it was a little bit difficult to keep up at times,” she said.
“There were times I wanted to give up. In the end I knew what the goals were and it paid off.
Biles will be 23 in Tokyo, relatively old for female gymnastics, but feels the age demographic is changing.
“Even after the Olympics we had the oldest American team with an average age of 19, but we were also the most successful,” she said. “So I feel the age is changing just a little bit, so hopefully the peaking age is not 16 any more!”
“I hope I make the team,” she said. “This time it will be smaller with just four in 2020 so that’s more difficult.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)