Simone Biles on what’s next: “finding out what I really want to do”

Simone Biles
Getty Images

There’s a video interlude during the “Gold Over America Tour” that Simone Biles spent the fall headlining where she offers advice to the audience of predominantly young women on how to deal with adversity.

“Regroup, reset, and everything will be just fine,” she says.

The seven-time Olympic medalist — one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time — knows what she’s talking about.

Three months ago, on the other side of the world, Biles removed herself from competition in the middle of the team final at the Tokyo games. The 24-year-old did it for her own personal welfare while she battled what is known as “ the twisties,” a phenomenon that didn’t allow her mind and body to get in sync enough to allow her to safely do what she’s done as well as anyone in the history of her sport.

The decision further spurred a rapidly evolving discussion about the role that proper mental health plays not just for athletes, but for everyone.

“It was very alarming (in the moment),” Biles recently told The Associated Press. “(My body) told me like, ‘Hey, enough is enough, you got to go get help.’”

She did, and returned on the final day of the meet to earn a bronze medal on beam. Biles went home not with a fistful of gold as she did after her breathtaking performance in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 but with something more valuable: a clean slate mentally.

Having a post-Olympic tour to lead also helped. Biles never considered bailing on it. If anything, she needed the tour — which wrapped up a 32-city sprint Sunday in Boston — to help her and fellow Olympic teammates Jordan Chiles, MyKayla Skinner, Jade Carey and Grace McCallum (as well as world champions Chellsie Memmel and Morgan Hurd, among others) step out of the hyper-pressurized bubble of elite gymnastics.

“It’s kind of that break we needed, in the best sort of way,” Biles said.

The “GOAT” tour allowed Biles to reconnect with the energy of a crowd, energy that was palpably missing inside the spectator-free Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo.

When she initially announced the tour in fall 2019, she viewed it as an alternative to the typical post-Olympic tour run by USA Gymnastics. She wanted something “completely different.”

The two-hour celebration of gymnastics, self-care and mental well-being seems aptly suited for an audience that’s spent nearly two years grappling with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tour also shifted the focus around the sport back to the joy of simply doing it just to do it.

“I think we’ve definitely changed the outlook on gymnastics because it’s had a bad rep for a couple of years now,” Biles said. “So for kids and parents to come and see the show, they’re like, ‘You can still have fun.’ This is normal.”

The show isn’t quite over — the “Gold Over America Tour” will hold a streaming event at 4 p.m. EST Dec. 4, a decision Biles made in an effort to share her vision with those who couldn’t make it in person.

“At least we’ll have that opportunity to be able to be in their living rooms and feel like they’re there with us,” she said.

For now, a post-tour trip to Belize awaits. And while Biles jokes that she “would love to burrow in a hole or an island for two months,” it’s not an option. If anything, it’s possible her “it’s OK to not be OK” stand in Tokyo raised her profile more than if she would have just gone out there and dominated just as she’s done for the better part of a decade.

Biles is intent on using her platform to become an advocate for mental well-being, even as she stresses she’s hardly an expert on what it takes to find balance.

“I’m not trying to tell you how to navigate your journey,” she said, in part because she’s still on her own.

The success of the tour has forced her to recalibrate her future. She’s going to wait to make any hard decisions about whether she’ll return to competition.

Yet, she can see a day where the “Gold Over America Tour” becomes a post-Olympic fixture, with her name attached as a presenter if not a performer.

Chiles, who has grown close with Biles since joining World Champions Centre — the massive gym Biles’ family owns in the northern Houston suburbs — called her friend “a businesswoman at heart.”

“She loves to do things,” Chiles said. “She loves to be on top … There’s going to be a bunch of stuff that’s going to be thrown her way and I can’t wait to see it.”

Whether any of that “stuff” means a run at the Paris Olympics in three years remains to be seen. One thing Biles has learned is that she’s not tethered to gymnastics; the sport she helped redefined will not be the only thing that defines her.

So it’s time to take a break. Maybe a permanent one, maybe not. Either way, she’s good.

“I know if I walked away from the sport, I know there are other things and different avenues out there,” Biles said. “For me, it’s just finding out what I really want to do.”

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
Getty Images

Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.

USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)


  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”