Simone Biles fears mental toll on athletes after postponement of Tokyo Olympics

Guardian sport
Photograph: Matthias Schräder/AP

Simone Biles has spoken of her fears of the mental toll on athletes as they ponder an extra year of preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Games were due to start in July but have been postponed until the summer of 2021 as major sports events shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Biles, who is arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, was expected to win multiple golds in Tokyo this year.

“Physically I have no doubts that my coaches will get me back in shape, but mentally going another year, I think that is what’s going to take the toll on me and all of us and most of the athletes,” the American told NBC’s Today show. “We have to stay in shape mentally just as much as physically. That will play a big factor moving forward, listening to your body and your mind.”

Related: Why Simone Biles is even better than her scores tell

Biles will be 24 when the Games start next year, an age when most Olympic gymnasts have long since retired. She says the decision to delay the Olympics was correct.

“I was actually in the gym training at the time because we were allowed under 10 people ... and I went to the locker and between rotations and I got a text,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to feel. I just kind of sat there. I cried but ultimately it was the right decision. We need to make sure everyone in the US and around the world is healthy and safe. It was hard but it’s OK.”

Athletes face challenges to their training schedule with large parts of the world in lockdown, but Biles said she is finding ways to stay in shape.

“I’m in contact through text and FaceTime with my coaches ... so we can figure out a plan moving forward for the next year,” she said. “Other than that, they have sent us at-home workouts. I’m also walking my dog a lot more. Just trying to stay healthy and in shape before we can return to the gym and start the training process again.”

Biles has won 30 golds combined at the Olympics and gymnastics world championships. Four of those golds came at Rio 2016, where she was one of the stars of the Games.