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Simone Biles opens up about her first brush with racism in gymnastics

Liz Roscher
·2 min read
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Simone Biles is considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, but as a Black woman in a sport that continues to struggle with diversity and backward attitudes, she has experienced her fair share of racism during her gymnastics career.

In an interview with “TODAY” on Thursday, Biles opened up about her first brush with racism as a gymnast.

"I didn't really notice racism until 2013," Biles told “TODAY” co-host Hoda Kotb. "I was on a world scene, and what made the news was, another gymnast saying that if we painted our skin black maybe we would all win because I had beaten her out of beam medal, and she got upset. And that [was] really the news, rather than me winning worlds."

Racist comment at the 2013 World Championships

The incident Biles described happened when she was 16. At the World Gymnastics Championships, Biles made history as the first Black woman to win the all-around title, while Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito placed 11th. Biles also beat Ferlito for the bronze medal on the balance beam.

Unhappy with the results, Ferlito gave a bitterly racist quote during a video interview, implying that Biles won due to her skin color and not her superior talent.

"I told [teammate Vanessa Ferrari] that next time we should also paint our skin black so then we can win, too," Ferlito said.

Simone Biles prepares for her routine on the uneven bars
Simone Biles' first experience with racism in gymnastics happened at the World Championships when she was 16 years old. (Photo by Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Ferlito’s comments made headlines and received widespread criticism, and she eventually offered an apology to Biles on Twitter. On the advice of her mother, Nellie, Biles didn’t comment publicly on Ferlito’s comments or her apology.

Racist incidents like those are harmful, but Biles wants to stay motivated for the next generation of athletes.

"Other than that, it happens every day, and I feel like every Black athlete or colored athlete can say that they've experienced it through their career," Biles told Kotb. "But you just have to keep going for those little ones looking up to us. It doesn't matter what you look like. You can strive for greatness, and you can be great."

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