Gymnast Simone Biles today offered up the strongest hint that she is already planning to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics, admitting that she is 'keeping the door open' for the next Games after suffering a series of mental health issues that blighted her quest for gold medal glory in Tokyo.
The 24-year-old spoke out about the mental health struggles that prompted her controversial decision to withdraw from five Olympic finals, revealing that she now believes they were 'probably' caused - at least in part - by the trauma of the abuse she endured at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar.
'Now that I think of it, maybe in the back of my head, probably, yes, because there are certain triggers that you don't even know. And I think [the abuse] could have [affected me],' she told the Today show's Hoda Kotb.
Biles, who left Tokyo with two medals - a silver in the team final and a bronze on the balance beam - added that she was 'a little bit' worried that her decision to withdraw would once again allow USA Gymnastics to 'brush [the Nassar abuse scandal] under the rug', having revealed prior to the Olympics that she wanted to keep reminding the public of what she and hundreds of other gymnasts had gone through.
Looking ahead: Simone Biles today gave the strongest hint that she is hoping to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics, saying she is 'leaving the door open' for a return to the Games
Struggle: The 24-year-old spoke to Today about the mental health issues that blighted her quest for Olympic gold in Tokyo, insisting her decision to withdraw from finals felt 'brave'
Back in action: After pulling out of five Olympic finals, Biles returned to competition in the balance beam final on Tuesday, when she won a bronze medal
'[It weighed on me] a little bit, but I knew that still being the face of gymnastics and the USA and everything we've brought, it's not going to be buried under the rug and it will still be a very big conversation,' she said.
'We have to protect those athletes and figure out why it happened, who knew what when.'
The gymnast also confessed that her decision to withdraw left her struggling with guilt over the disappointment that her family at home might feel, particularly as they had 'sacrificed so much' to help her achieve her sporting goals.
'Trigger': Speaking about her mental health struggles in Tokyo, Biles admitted that they were 'probably' caused - at least in part - by the trauma of the abuse she suffered at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar
'[It's a lot of pressure to carry] for one person... my family back home, they sacrificed so much,' she said.
'You work five years for something and you have a whole team surrounding you and you do it all together and... I get here and it didn't work how I wanted it to.'
Biles first revealed that she was battling mental health issues when she made the shock decision to pull out of the team final after just one event - the vault - on which she balked in mid-air after getting 'lost' during a skill.
Recalling the moment she realized she 'had no idea where she was', Biles admitted that she was left 'petrified' because she didn't know where she was going to land.
'I don't think people realized doing that vault, since I still landed on my feet, I don't think they realized I didn't do the correct vault I was supposed to,' she said.
'I had no idea where I was in the air, you could literally see it in my eyes in the pictures, I was petrified.
'I had no idea what I was about to land on. My head, my face, my legs, my arms? I had no idea where I was and I was really afraid I was going to hurt myself.'
Terror: In Tokyo, Biles battled a mental condition called the 'twisties', which causes gymnasts to feel 'lost in the air' and prompted her to bail on her team final vault mid-way through
Concern: She revealed that she felt 'petrified' while flying through the air on the skill, saying, 'You could see it in my eyes... I had no idea where I was'
Biles' withdrawal from the team final - and her subsequent decision to pull out of the all-around, uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise events - sparked a furious debate online and in the media, with some accusing the gymnast of 'quitting' and 'abandoning' her team.
However she insists that she made the 'braver' decision in pulling out of competition, noting that it is not something she would have had the strength to do several years ago.
'I thought that was brave of me, because if you would have asked me a couple of years ago, I would have kept pushing through,' she said.
'But I'm at the age now where I kind of control my mental and wellbeing and I knew that it was the best decision for the team and myself.'
The decision to withdraw, she insists, was not an easy one however - and she says she felt as though she was 'giving up' on a 'dream' she had worked five years to bring to fruition.
'It was hard working five years for a dream and just having to give it up. It was not easy at all... But I also had to make that decision for the team because they worked so hard and I couldn't lose a medal for those girls,' she said of her US teammates - who carried on the team final a man-down and eventually finished in silver-medal position behind Russia.
Biles went into the 2020 Olympics with a five-medal haul from Rio 2016 - four golds and a bronze - and she was widely expected to replicate, if not improve upon, that success in Tokyo.
She says the 'pressure' of that expectation felt 'like the weight of the world was on her shoulders', and left her feeling 'overwhelmed' as she prepared to compete in this year's Games.
Peaks and troughs: When asked about her lowest point in Tokyo, Biles (pictured after her bronze win on beam) said it was feeling like she would 'only be remembered for her medals'
Alternative: In order to overcome the 'twisties', Biles removed all twisting elements from her beam routine, switching out her usual dismount for an easier skill that only required two flips
'[The pressure] feels heavy. It's like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and I'm very small so I feel like at times it's very overwhelming,' she said.
Biles revealed in the wake of her return to competition for Tuesday's balance beam final that she had to be 'cleared' for the event by Team USA's sports psychologists, whose job it was to determine whether she would be able to take part safely.
But while she expressed her 'shock' and 'joy' at being able to return to the Ariake Gymnastics Center as a competitor rather than a spectator, Biles confessed that she considered 'not doing it' while struggling to nail her routine in training.
In order to conquer the 'twisties', Biles altered her usual beam routine in order to remove all elements that required a twist, including her signature dismount.
Biles went viral in 2019 when she became the first ever female gymnast to perform a double-double dismount in competition - a move that requires two twists and two flips - and many had expected her to use the move in Tokyo.
Instead, she substituted the twisted maneuver for a double pike, which only requires two flips and, as a result, carried a much lower score by about four-tenths of a point.
The skill is considered much easier to complete, however Biles admitted that she struggled to perfect it at such short notice - and wasn't sure that she would be able to make it work in time for the beam final, which was held exactly one week after she pulled out of the team competition.
'In the beginning when I kept over-rotating the dismounts, yes [I did think about not doing it],' she admitted - after NBC commentators revealed that Biles trained in a 'secret gym' in Tokyo in order to work on her routine away from the cameras and spectators.
'But then I was like, I think I can do it, I know I have a good beam set and I felt fairly confident.
Up next: The gymnast's coach, Cecile Landi, said that Biles was 'openly talking about therapy' while going through her 'hell of a week' in Tokyo
'I wasn't expecting to walk away with a medal or anything. I just wanted to go out there and do it for myself and I did. It felt really amazing. I'm proud of myself for the way pushed through and even learned that dismount that I haven't done in years and just put up a good set, that's all I really wanted.'
Despite her struggles in Tokyo, Biles told Kotb, 56, that she is still considering pushing for a spot on Team USA's Paris 2024 team, admitting that she is 'keeping the door open' for a return in three years - when she will be 27 years old.
But she insists that her focus right now is her 'mental wellbeing', which her coach, Cecile Landi, revealed she will address in therapy upon her return to the US.
Speaking ahead of the balance beam final, Landi - who trains Biles alongside her husband Laurent - explained that the gymnast had been 'openly talking about therapy' during her 'hell of a week' in Tokyo.
'I think honestly we all should do it,' the coach told People. 'No shame on it. And I think I might need to.
'It's been one hell of a week. Some very high [points], some very low.'
When asked by Kotb what her 'lowest point' at the Tokyo Games was, Biles said it was the feeling that she would only ever 'be remembered for her medals'
Landi added that Biles 'needs a good break', saying: 'We're going to go back to work but I'm happy for her that she gets to go back to her family, her boyfriend, her dog. She's just going to go home and enjoy.'
Biles first revealed that she was undergoing therapy after coming forward as one of the hundreds of gymnasts who were abused by Nassar during his 30-year career.
At the time, the sporting star shared that she struggled with 'depression' after coming to terms with the fact that she had been sexually assaulted by the doctor, and said she was 'sleeping all the time' because it was 'the closest thing to death'.