By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - In Tokyo for the Olympics but unable to go anywhere except her hotel and practice sessions, defending Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Simone Biles sent out a call one recent afternoon: "Tell me a secret - I'm bored."
Her 4.4 million Instagram followers responded with everything from personal problems to how they skipped school, prompting the 24-year-old Biles to dish out life advice and reactions accompanied by candid selfies.
A message reading: "I have one of my closest friends muted on Instagram cause she posts the dumbest things," got an earnest Biles looking straight at the camera and agreeing, "Me too. Sometimes it's needed."
Others said they had lost their sense of smell, received a secret inheritance and were getting surprise presents for their mothers. One person even confided that they were pregnant - to which Biles responded with a big grin and "Congrats!"
But some messages were more serious.
"I still haven't told my dad I'm gay even though everyone else in my family knows," wrote one person.
A pensive Biles responded: "Tell him, be free, be yourself. I support you," adding: "For anyone else struggling with telling family or friends, just know I will always welcome you with open arms on my page and platforms."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics - postponed for a year - are being held under strict protocols, including daily virus tests for athletes, to prevent any further spread in a country where most people have yet to get a vaccine and still want the Games cancelled or postponed again.
Biles, who has won every all-around competition she has taken part in since 2013, won five medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, including all-around gold, and is predicted to improve on that in Tokyo.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Karishma Singh)