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From Sexual Abuse to the Mental Crisis in Tokyo - Simon Bales Revealed | Israel today


The last two years have been the most exhausting in Simon Bailes' personal and professional life • After revealing that she too was sexually abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar, the queen of the gymnastics world broke in Tokyo • About him from the age of 6 ", says the person who gave a poignant testimony in the case to the Senate a month ago •" I suppressed the case as much as my mind and body allowed me "

Simon Bales has a sharp and precise awareness of her body in relation to space. The ability to let the muscle navigate against the logic of the brain. She can clear her mind, think of nothing. In cat reflexes, she positions herself in space and lands on her feet, each time. It was the hallmark of her genius since she was a child, the thing that made her different from all of them. Watching it was like trying to capture the light. Do you think to yourself "Did this just happen?"

She flies higher, is faster than her competitors, and also has more room for failure, because what she is trying to do is much harder to accomplish. She broke the records of the gymnasts she adored - Nestia Leucin, Sean Johnson, Alicia Scramona - and they think she is the best of them all, without a doubt. Bales is what superheroes are made of, other than the fact that it is made of bones and muscles that can stretch and break. But what broke her in the gym of the Tokyo Olympics, was not the body, but something in her soul. This was an injury that could not be explained by a CT scan or X-ray. If at first the body seemed to have betrayed her, in fact he cared for her, when he lost the ability to obey the instructions he received.

The last two years have been the most exhausting in Bales' personal and professional life.

In 2018, she bravely revealed that she, like dozens of other women, was sexually abused by the former doctor of the US gymnastics team, Larry Nassar, whom the American Gymnastics Association tried to cover for his crimes. Competitively successful, she expected things to happen as they always did.

Then, on the fifth day of the competition, she got off the showjumping horse and discovered she could not see herself inside her head.

Can't see the floor to land.

It was not only unexpected - it was terrifying, and caused a worldwide uproar.

Bales immediately withdrew from the competitions, until she returned with an exciting comeback and won a bronze medal in the beam exercise.

"My point of view has never changed so quickly," she says in an interview about a month after the Olympics.

"I moved like a missile from the desire to be on the podium, to the desire to return home on my own, without crutches."

In a sense, she knows she made the right decision.

Some days she feels confident about it, but other days her heart just breaks.

"It's like I jumped from a moving train," she says.

"Everyone asks, 'If you could come back, would you come back?'

"So the answer is no. I would not change anything, because everything happens for a reason. I learned a lot about myself, about courage, about resilience, about the way to say 'no' to myself and stand up for mine."

Today, while in treatment, Bales already knows she will not be able to set a recovery schedule.

"It's going to be something I'll probably be working on for 20 years," she says.

"No matter how much I try to forget. It's a work in progress."

She now mostly spends time with her partner, football player Jonathan Evans, with her family in Houston and close friends, learning how to see herself and her needs more clearly.

Early in her life, Bales developed a sense of maternal responsibility.

She was the mother of her little sister when they were in a foster family, and the mother of her teammates on the way to winning the Olympics.

Now is her time to be her own mother.

A month after the Olympics, when we are sitting in a hotel in New York, the 24-year-old gymnast already looks radiant and relaxed.

Her face is lightly made up, she wears a bright white T-shirt that looks like it has just been taken off the shelf and offers to drink mimosa, a cocktail consisting of champagne and citrus juice.

It's 10 in the morning, but why not?

Bales' ease after the competition season is an art.

In the months she is competing or preparing for the competition, Bales is focused and works in a rigid order.

Today, however, it seems more open to go with the flow.

Life is no less busy, but the risks are much lower.

She has just started rehearsing for "Gold Over America", a round of artistic gymnastics performances all over the US where she stars, and won an award at the VMA, the MTV Music Awards. During the conversation, whether she shares deep thoughts or laughs Big, rolling laugh, it's easy to see why little girls scream when she enters a room.

Awarded a prize.

At the MTV ceremony, Photo: Reuters

• • •

Although Bailes is generally honest about her feelings, she is skilled at presenting them in a way that seems prepared in advance.

"There were highs and lows," she simply sums up her appearance in Tokyo, glancing toward the ceiling, considering the chances and risks of what she will say.

"Sometimes I'm perfectly fine with what happened there, as if, realizing that's how it works," she shifts her large, colorful braids over her shoulder.

"And at other moments I just burst into tears at home."

Bales is naturally prone to modesty.

She loves people knowing she sees the glass half full, but when she talks about the criticisms against her during the Tokyo Games, her rage intensifies.

She recalls the absurdity of some of the assumptions the public made about her performance, or the Twitter threads that accused her of giving up or unwillingness to compete.

"If I still had an awareness of the body and its location in space, and I just had a bad day, I would go on," she clarifies, "but it was more than that."

After training most of her life for the Olympics, and after a tedious season and years of public debate about the person who abused her - how can anyone think that the events at the Olympics happened because she just did not want to perform?

How can one think that after all this time, after all the effort, she will go all the way to Tokyo just to retire?

"Let's say you're 30 and you have full vision, but one morning you wake up and can see nothing," she continues, "but still, people tell you to keep doing your daily work as if you have sight. You will be lost, no? "That's the only thing I can identify with. I've been exercising for 18 years, but that morning I woke up and just lost it. How am I supposed to get on with my day?"

Bales knows she's the best of them all.

Four elements in gymnastics are named after her - one on the beam, one on the jumping horse and two in the ground exercise.

With 32 medals at the Olympics and World Championships, she is also the most decorated gymnast of all time.

In a profession like hers, for an athlete with abilities like hers, the brain is the most important organ.

He tells the body what to do, and the body remembers.

Anything that challenges sharp thinking is life-threatening.

Up until Tokyo, Bales had always managed to overcome potential mental barriers, both in gymnastics and in her personal life.

She succeeded in reaching a foster family after being taken from her mother, who was dealing with addictions;

Tens of thousands of hours of grueling training and injuries in 2013 and 2015;

And years of sexual assault by Larry Nassar, and endless attacks on her spirit, when she publicly exposed those assaults.

It was the Indianapolis Star newspaper that in 2016 exposed Nassar's perennial abuse of hundreds of young women.

It was then reported that the American Gymnastics Association, the USAG, knew about the acts and covered them.

Before that, the bail we know was quieter - diplomatic towards everyone and focused exclusively on competition.

She appeared in competitions, defeated the contestants with great grace, and returned home saying thank you for the fun.

The following months were difficult.

“Some days it was very difficult to be in the gym mentally,” she recalls.

At first she chose not to share her personal abuse story, but when she flooded the issue in 2018, her voice was sharp and clear.

"I feel broken," she wrote on Twitter, "and the more I try to shut the voices in my head, the louder the shouts get."

Many years of abuse.

Nassar, Photo: AFP

Since then, every day for months, these have been her life: headlines with her name next to Nassar's name, public events in which she would stamp on little girls in one moment and address the affair in a TV interview the moment after.

Something in her self-perception had changed at this point, and she was no longer willing to be kind.

This change could be seen in her eyes ahead of the 2019 Kansas City Gymnastics Championships, so reporters asked her about coverage of Nassar's actions. While criticizing the American Gymnastics Association, Bailes added in tears: "You had one job! And you failed to protect us. "She wanted those who caused her and her friends this enormous pain to see her as a human being, as a human being.

Against the backdrop of this situation, Bales has never missed a competition.

In some ways she actually felt stronger than ever, as the gym had become her safe place, away from the outside world, and she was at her peak.

To what extent at the peak?

She managed to perform "Yurchenko Double-Pike", an exercise named after gymnast Natalia Yurchenko, during which the gymnast arrives at the jumping table after a double reversal and from there jumps to a jump that includes two somersaults, all done while keeping her legs straight.

This is one of the most complicated and complex exercises in the gymnastics industry, some would say also dangerous, and it is such a difficult exercise that no other woman has tried it.

While training for the Tokyo Olympics, Bales went to psychotherapy, where she learned coping mechanisms and how to listen to how she feels every day.

“As the Olympics approached,” she recalls, “I told my psychologist I felt good enough to go there.

"He replied, 'Yes, you're fine enough to go and do what you know how to do, but you have to go back.' And I said to myself, 'No, I'm fine.'

• • •

Bales boarded a flight to Tokyo when she was confident, but the corona tests, the no-show performance and the fact that her parents were not by her side affected her.

"It was harder for me, mentally, to get into a state of competition," she explained.

Anxiety landed on her, and although the coaches delivered the usual encouraging conversations and reminded each athlete of her unique goal on the team, the words were not absorbed in her as usually happened.

"As the moment approached, I became more and more nervous," she says.

"I did not feel as safe as I was supposed to."

The trouble started already in the qualifiers.

Bales stumbled in exercise after exercise, and she and the coaches tried to find solutions on the go.

They tried to use sponges and surfaces that might make her feel safer, but nothing worked.

"I was not able to," she says.

"Despite everything we tried, my body just said to me, 'Simon, calm down. Sit down. We're not doing this.' I've never been through something like this."

Bales is known in the sports world for her independence, and even among the coaching staff she is honored for her ability to moderate herself, to take a step back when necessary.

But she rarely does take such a step because she can not do anything.

In her performance on the show jumping, in the women’s team final, Bales knew something bigger was happening.

She tried to do two and a half rounds in the air, but completed only one and a half.

This was not a technical error.

She had "twists", which are a time when the athlete's brain and body lose connection and the muscle's memory fails to go into action.

Let each gymnast describe the case to you, and it will sound like an unparalleled hell. "It's something very dangerous," Bales explains, "because it's actually life or death. It's a miracle I landed on my feet. If it was anyone else, he would get out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed from the exercise on the jumping horse I came to my trainer and said 'I did not Can continue '".

She was expected to win five gold medals. Even the commercials for the Tokyo Olympics hinted that she would win all the medals. That was supposed to be her goal, but that was no longer the case. "If you look at everything I've been through in the last seven years, I was never supposed to be on another Olympic team," she says, her eyes filling with tears. "I was supposed to retire before Tokyo, when the Larry Nassar affair was in the media for two years. It was too much. But I was not going to let him take something I worked on from the age of 6. I was not going to let him take that happiness from me, so I pushed it as much as my mind and body Let me. "

A month and a half after Tokyo, on September 15, Bailes, along with gymnast and Olympic champion Eli Reisman and other gymnasts, were invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Constitution Committee, which examined the FBI's handling of Nassar's investigation.

"Before we entered the hall, I sat in the back and cried," she says, "and then, of course, you have to reset yourself and go out there. Be strong in that moment."

"I, too, am a survivor of sexual abuse," Bales told the commission, "and it feels like the FBI is turning a blind eye to our case. As an athlete, organizations like the American Gymnastics Association and the Olympic and Paralympic Committee have failed in their mission. "

"Before we entered the hall, I sat in the back and cried."

Bailes will testify in the Senate on September 15 this year, Photo: Reuters

As she talks about the subject, her voice breaks.

"Sorry," she says in a whisper, detailing the outrage she felt when she realized in 2016 that her teammate told the former head of the American Gymnastics Association's women's program that she suspected Bales had also been harmed by Nassar.

Although the investigation has already begun, neither the gymnastics association nor the FBI have contacted her or her parents.

In fact, Bales did not receive an update on the investigation until after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

• • •

As has often happened to me in our conversations as well, my stomach turned when I listened to Bailes in the Senate.

I thought about what she had to carry with her little body, about all the responsibilities she was not supposed to have at such a young age.

The person who was ordered to take the gold was left alone to suffer abuse.

The feeling was violently familiar.

Black women and girls, talented and genius, are exploited by bodies and forgotten when they need protection.

No wonder her body resisted.

I have a theory that if someone were to try to measure the exact amount of work that black women contributed, forcibly or out of free will, to the American economy and culture, if America had to put a cent on every drop of their sweat, the number would be so great that it would deplete resources Of the United States.

"As a black woman, we just need to be better," Bales says simply, echoing what many black women have said before.

"Because even if we break records, 'they' always muffle it, like it's just normal, normal."

Bales' generation, which is also my generation, is, I hope, the last generation of separations.

We tend to set boundaries - to say "no" to why and to whom we do not want, to conventions, to expectations, to demands.

We are less likely to stay in jobs that cause us to be unhappy or to receive the treatment that our mothers and grandmothers had to endure.

This is what all my girlfriends say to themselves, to each other, to me.

If we do it right - in the next generation there will be no more mules.

We have done enough - the world will have to adapt to our conditions.

Sometimes, and especially in the case of Bales, the payoff for being the best at something is the choice not to do the same thing one more time.

Did not receive an update on the investigation until after the games.

Bailes at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Photo: GettyImage

She does not address the cynicism of those who hate her, the expectations of the fans, the media, the coaches, the parents.

She is less concerned with the need to be perfect at the expense of her health, less concerned with the demands that keep her from recovering.

It gives less regard to the environment, and more to itself.

Bales knows that setting boundaries also comes at a price, and she's happy to pay it.

"It means sacrificing some of what I'm a star," she says, "but at the end of the day, you can't have everything. If you take care of your mental state first, the rest will fall into the right place."

Being the girl who can be there for her team and support her in most ways from winning gold, is the legacy she would like to leave behind.

A legacy of courage and moral heroism.

In all her years as a competitor, Bales has never been able to just watch.

"I always reached the final. I never sat in the audience," she says.

"I always wanted to see myself, as an out-of-body experience, and I feel like God gave it to me. In Tokyo I had the opportunity to watch my girls and my competitors and I was amazed at what they did, like, how do they do it? How amazing is that?"

That feeling alone, she says, was worth it all.

And so, Simon Bales decides for herself what it means to be Simon Bales right now.

She decides what she is giving up, she is responsible for deciding what the next thing is, if any.

At the moment she's still not sure, still thinking about it, but if she does not return to the competition, it will be just fine.

And if she still has something else to give, she's already letting us know.

Source: israelhayom

All news articles on 2021-10-15

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