A year ago, few people outside the insular world of international gymnastics had heard of Simone Biles. That all changed at the Rio Olympics in August, where the 19-year-old Spring resident won five medals, all but one of them gold, and staked her claim as the greatest American gymnast of all time. She returned home to a hero’s welcome, made the rounds of television talk shows, got invited to the White House, and became a fixture on red carpets from coast to coast. After devoting most of her life to gymnastics, she was ready to enjoy a much-deserved victory lap.
“I’m just trying to live in the moment, take some time off, and not think about gymnastics,” Biles told us recently by phone. She’s currently in the middle of a book tour to promote her recently published memoir, Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, which she wrote with Michele Burford and features a foreword by Mary Lou Retton. The previous weekend she had attended the Golden Globes with other stars of Team USA, including her date, the six-foot-five swimmer Conor Dwyer, who can be seen in red carpet photos towering above her.
The Olympics may be over, but Biles is still picking up awards—she was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, the Glamour Woman of the Year (along with actress/activist Zendaya), and is nominated for the 2017 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year, which will be announced in Monaco on February 14. She’s also served as co-grand marshal— along with Sugar Land Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel—of Houston’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, appeared in a music video by singer Jake Miller, and posed for the forthcoming Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Biles was convinced to participate in the swimsuit issue by her friend and fellow gymnast Aly Raisman. “She was like, ‘Come on, Simone, we have to do this! It will be so much fun!’ So I was like, fine, it sounds pretty cool, let’s do it,” Biles recalled. The photo shoot took place at locations around Houston, including the North Houston Skate Park and the sculpture garden of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which were closed down to give the women privacy.
“They made us feel comfortable, and the photographer we shot with [James Macari] was absolutely amazing,” Biles said. “I think it’s cool that they’re showing athletes in this different light.” To launch the issue, Sport Illustrated is hosting the Vibes Festival on February 17 and 18 in Houston, featuring appearances by many of the swimsuit models and music by Diplo and Miguel. Biles said she plans to attend if her schedule allows.
Biles’s post-Olympic victory tour has been marked by one sour note—in August, her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, left to take a new job as executive director of women’s gymnastics at Evo Athletics in Sarasota, Florida. “That was kind of sad, but she told me after the Olympics so I knew it was coming,” Biles said. “I’m happy for her, and she’s happy, so that’s what matters.”
Of course, the question on many people’s minds is whether Biles will return to the Olympics in 2020 to defend her all-around gold medal. At 23, she would at the upper end of the typical age range for competitive gymnasts, but if anybody could pull off the comeback, it would be Biles. When asked if she has any thoughts on the matter, the gymnast demurred. “As of right now I don’t really have any, just because I’ve been so busy with other stuff.”
Stuff like meeting Justin Timberlake, whom she bumped into on the red carpet at the Golden Globes earlier this month. “I turned around and saw him, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And he was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ That was amazing.”