SAN JOSE, Calif. — Gymnast Simone Biles did her best impression of a disgruntled teenager, slouching in her chair in the interview area.
Imagine the reaction if you told your kids they couldn’t text message for a day or two and that just about captures the emotion that Biles reconstructed Thursday (July 7) at SAP Center.
The reigning three-time world champion was retelling the story of her first meeting with Houston-based sports performance consultant Robert Andrews about three years ago, and how their initial session got off to a slow start.
“I was in the chair like this,” she says, slouching back, adding, “And I didn’t talk. He was like, ‘What’s wrong?'”
Biles assured him she wasn’t crazy.
“He was, ‘What do you mean you’re not crazy?’ ” Biles says. “I said, ‘It’s a sports psychologist, so that means you’re crazy.’ He said, ‘Are you kidding me? You sat in this chair for an hour because you think I’m going to tell you you’re crazy?'”
Once they eliminated that word from the conversation, progress was made. Also impressed by his gymnastics knowledge, Biles said she started “opening up” and was able to process his message in ways she couldn’t absorb the words of her family and her coach, Aimee Boorman.
“He’s been able to chip away, little by little,” Boorman says Thursday after practice. “I know every time she goes to see him she feels better about what she’s doing.
“It definitely gave her some insight to why she was feeling a certain way, and tools of how to deal with things she started feeling. Before every competition, she’ll at least have a phone call with him.”
The Biles story has taken on the hue of a Disney feel-good movie since she took the great leap forward three years ago: talented gymnast goes on a head-turning winning streak, often prevailing by sizable margins, and is heavily favored to become a breakout star at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Except it’s not a movie. At least not yet.
Biles has won the last three World Championships in the all-around competition. She has captured the national crown four consecutive times, most recently winning the all-around title in St. Louis last month by almost four points.
Surely, she seems destined for worldwide fame, maybe even referred to by only her given name — Simone — by the time everyone packs up and leaves Brazil.
Before attempting to join the famed world assembly line of Olympic gold-medal winning gymnasts, however, there is one more order of business.
Biles and 13 other gymnasts are in San Jose to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials Friday and Sunday under the watchful and critical eye of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. There would have been one more but Alyssa Baumann pulled out June 30 after suffering an injury when she was training on the uneven bars.
The field — that is, everyone other than Biles — will supply plenty of story lines in San Jose. After Biles, veterans Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas and a newcomer, 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, it appears as though there could be one spot up for grabs on the five-woman team.
Will it go to an artful specialist such as Ashton Locklear, who won the uneven bars at nationals in St. Louis last month? Or to Madison Kocian, who was fifth in nationals in the all-around competition? Or perhaps to Maggie Nichols, a silver medalist in the all-around event at the nationals in 2015?
Kocian and Nichols were forced to deal with injuries in 2016, although Kocian was able to take on a full program in St. Louis last month, unlike Nichols. However, Nichols, who had knee surgery in April, is poised for a heavier workload this weekend.
Biles, meanwhile, isn’t tempting fate, calling the topic of the Olympics a “touchy subject.”
Asked to explain, she said of the Games, “It makes all of us nervous. … Just thinking about the Olympics gives us chills.”
Still, the 19-year-old looked as relaxed and cheerful as ever, trying to impart some of her hard-won knowledge and psychological insights to younger colleagues on the eve of their most-important competition yet.
“I always tell them, yes, if we mess up, we kind of get jittery and scared,” Biles said. “But I always tell the girls, the crowd paid to come see gymnastics. They didn’t pay to see us all stay on the equipment. So if we fall, you just have to get back up there and show confidence because they’re just happy they’re in the same building with you.”
Biles threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Houston Astros-Seattle Mariners baseball game Monday in Houston. She handled the occasion with aplomb and executed an aerial flip before making the throw.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “I was like, ‘Can I do a beam routine instead?'”
The U.S. Olympic trials for women’s gymnastics air Friday, July 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and Sunday, July 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.