Simone Biles described experiencing a nasty bout of racism from an opponent

Business Insider US
Simone Biles performs on the beam during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games
  • Simone Biles has experienced bigotry while competing during her illustrious gymnastics career.
  • Biles reflected on one instance while promoting her partnership with skincare brand SK-II back in March. An opponent made racist comments after Biles bested her for a 2013 World Championship medal.
  • "In the interview afterward since me and Gabby [Douglas] had been winning, she's like 'Well maybe if we paint our skin black we'll win too,'" Biles said. "And that was really hurtful because that wasn't the reason."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Simone Biles may be the most dominant athlete on the planet, but even she isn't exempted from the tragic forces of bigotry.

Biles has acknowledged that trying to break through in gymnastics as a young Black girl competing in a sport historically dominated by white and Asian athletes "was a struggle growing up because you don't see many of your kind," though she insisted that most people were "super supportive" of her efforts when she was first coming up. Still, while promoting her partnership with skincare brand SK-II back in March, the most decorated World Champion gymnast of all time cited a brutal instance of racism she endured early on in her meteoric rise to prominence.

"There was an incident — I think it was either 2013 or 2014 — as I had come onto the scene," Biles said during an event in New York.

Biles made her first Artistic Gymnastics World Championships appearance in 2013, three years before she would dominate the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro and become an international superstar. Though she was brand new to senior-level competition, the 4-foot-8 wunderkind made her mark at that year's event in Antwerp, Belgium.

In addition to finishing in the top spot in the individual all-around by a 0.884-point margin, the then-16-year-old Biles won gold in the floor exercise, took home silver on the vault, and narrowly missed the podium in the uneven bars competition. But it was her third-place finish on the balance beam that sparked controversy. 

Biles narrowly bested Italians Vanessa Ferrari and Carlotta Ferlito on a tiebreaker to earn yet another medal. Ferrari and Ferlito were dissatisfied with missing the podium, and in an interview after the event, the latter stooped to making racist comments against Biles. 

"In the interview afterward since me and Gabby [Douglas] had been winning, she's like 'Well maybe if we paint our skin black we'll win too,'" Biles recalled. "And that was really hurtful because that wasn't the reason — it was just a tiebreaker unfortunately that they had to do because we got the exact same score."

Ferlito faced criticism after making the remark and eventually apologized to Biles via Twitter. At the advice of her mother, Biles chose not to publicly comment on either the initial comments or the subsequent apology.

Since that incident in 2013, Biles has gone on to set the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships record for most medals for any gymnast, male or female. She's added five Olympic medals — four gold and one bronze — to boot and become one of the most famous athletes on the planet.

That level of success has brought with it a powerful platform upon which Biles has become an inspiration to Black children who "don't see a lot of African American gymnasts" competing alongside them.

"I feel like I have instilled confidence in little African Americans all over the world," Biles said during the event. "I feel like if I can do it, then you can do it."

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

  • The R350 coronavirus grant system has a pile of unanswered emails 300,000 deep – on top of 40,000 calls per day
  • If you applied for a passport before lockdown you may now be able to collect it at some banks
  • A state company wants to buy autonomous drones to patrol SA’s borders and shout at people
  • SA's biggest house is for sale - take a look inside the opulent 'Vaal Castle'
  • You can ask Facebook for R24,000 in cash for your SA business – as long as you aren’t corrupt

  • Rand - Dollar
    Rand - Pound
    Rand - Euro
    Rand - Aus dollar
    Rand - Yen
    Brent Crude
    Top 40
    All Share
    Resource 10
    Industrial 25
    Financial 15
    All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo