American gymnast Simone Biles has been honoured with BBC Sports Personality of the Year’s Lifetime Achievement award.
Biles, 24, is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, having won four Olympic gold medals and 19 World Championship titles.
In 2018, she spoke candidly out about being abused by team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving a life sentence in jail.
She has also been praised for talking about her mental health struggles.
Biles said receiving the Lifetime Achievement award was an “unbelievable honour” and “truly humbling”.
“When I see those names who have been honoured before me, I can hardly believe it,” she said.
Biles had been expected to win more golds at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, but she withdrew from five of her six finals, saying she had to focus on her mental health.
She explained she had the ‘twisties’ – a dangerous mental block in which gymnasts lose their orientation in the air.
Biles later said she “should have quit way before Tokyo”.
Accepting her award, Biles said: “2021 wasn’t the year I was expecting. This summer, I had to take a step back from competition to recover from an invisible injury.
“That was the hardest decision of my life, but I chose to speak out to show mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of.
“I was expecting some criticism at first, but what happened was the complete opposite. The support and encouragement I received was overwhelming, and it fills my heart to think of those positive words.
“I want to take this moment to thank my team-mates, my friends, and my family, who gave me – and continue to give me – so much love and strength.
She added: “I’m so grateful to everyone in the UK who sent such supportive and loving messages to me at that time.
“What I will always treasure, more than any medal, is hearing how I may have helped someone feel a little better.
“I will carry on fighting for what I believe in, for sport to be a safer place for young people to grow and flourish, and I will continue to speak up about mental health.”
‘An exceptional individual’
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Biles spent much of her early years in and out of foster care before she was adopted by her maternal grandfather, Ron, and his second wife, Nellie.
She grew up in Texas, and was introduced to gymnastics at the age of six on a field trip, starting her elite career eight years later in 2011.
Just two years later, in 2013, she won her first two world titles, adding eight more to her collection by the end of 2015.
She made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016, where she won all four of her Olympic titles as well as a bronze medal.
After a hiatus in 2017, nine more world titles followed in 2018 and 2019, and she was expected to win more golds at Tokyo 2020 – postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But after suffering the ‘twisties’ she withdrew from five of her six finals, though still won team silver and individual beam bronze.
Since returning from the Olympics, Biles has been open about having therapy and is touring America with other members of the United States’ gymnastics team, but has not yet decided if she will return to competition.
“We are extremely proud of her in the way she has handled herself, the way she has matured,” said Ron. “I’m just amazed by how she carries herself.”
“Simone is an exceptional individual. She’s extremely talented – I don’t know where the talent came from.
“I tell folks it’s a God-given talent and I always tell her don’t waste what God gave you, because we didn’t give it to you, that’s for sure.
“It’s still mindblowing that this is coming from our daughter.”
Her mother, Nellie, said: “I see Simone as an amazing young lady. This is someone who is still the Simone that I knew when we first met her.
“Simone was talkative, Simone was expressive, she didn’t agree with everything that I said. Simone had a mind of her own, Simone advocated for herself and she’s always spoken for her sister, so she will always talk for someone.
“This is still the person that I know. This is someone that will speak out when need be, this is someone who is now finding her voice, and making that stronger and in thing she believes in.
“This is someone who has gone through a lot of struggles, like every one of us, and this is someone who is not ashamed to discuss the struggles that she has been through in life.
“She has become someone that from an athlete standpoint, many people can relate to that person, and from a human standpoint, many people can relate to Simone also, simply because she has, in time, made society believe in her and understand her from both sides.
“I think that says a lot for Simone in terms of her strength, and this is someone who is only 24.”