Katie Taylor is the epitome of the modern Irish sporting hero. There are posters, campaigns, countless children with big dreams now made possible by this one person. It can be a lot of pressure, having the weight of five million dreams on your shoulders.
Now imagine that weight, but multiplied to equate the hopes and expectations of some 330m Americans, and put it all on the back of a 24-year-old named Simone Biles.
Biles is the undisputed greatest gymnast of all time. She has not lost a competition since 2013 and is also regarded as one of the most talented athletes in living memory. As she reminded us this week, however, she is also human.
By walking away from the women's team final at the Olympics due to mental health concerns, the 25-time world medallist only added to the list of reasons why we admire her so much. Here are another five.
Simone and her three siblings were placed in foster care at a young age after their birth mother, who battled addiction, struggled to feed them. She has talked in the past about eating cereal with water and watching cats being fed more than her before her grandfather adopted her at age six.
In 2016, a month after the Rio Olympics, hackers also released Biles’ private medical information revealing that the star had ADHD - but Biles chose to use the moment to speak out. "Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of," she said.
Three years later, Simone’s family faced another tough situation when her brother was charged with murder following a fatal shooting at a New Year’s Eve party. Biles took to social media to request privacy for her family, though the media was quick to publish the story. Her brother was later acquitted of the charges.
However, the Biles family has a lot to celebrate, including how close they are. Simone’s sister Adria (22) is also a talented gymnast and the two often train together. Clad in a celebratory t-shirt, she was watching Simone's every move this week, alongside the rest of the family and Biles’ beloved dogs in their Texas home.
Biles’ maternal grandfather Ron is an Air Force veteran and his wife Nellie is a retired nurse. Both are referred to as her parents and they are the gymnast's biggest fans.
appreciation post for my sweet parents ❤️ thanks for making sacrifices since day 1 so I can live out my dream. but most importantly thanks for always being there for me through all the highs and lows. You guys are the absolute best. I love y’all 🤎 pic.twitter.com/jb45RdZoY3— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) June 29, 2021
Biles' relationship with boyfriend Jonathan Owens, an American football player, is highly publicised. Not many know, however, that Biles sent the first message.
“He would say I slid into his DMs. I saw him and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s pretty cute,’ so I said hi. Then I saw that he was in the Houston area, so we started chatting a little bit and then we went to hang out a week or two later,” she has said previously.
They’ve been inseparable ever since.
As former US Olympian Aly Raisman said following Biles’ decision to withdraw from the team finals on Tuesday, the US gymnastics team is made up of four people, not one. Leading up to this Olympics, everyone seemed to forget that - besides Biles.
“I am not in the right headspace. I am not going to lose a medal for this country and these girls because they’ve worked way too hard to have me go out there and lose a medal,” she said of her decision to step away after losing her bearings mid-air in her vault performance.
Though she said her pride was wounded, she stood behind her team cheering and hasn’t stopped gushing about their silver-medal winning performance since.
When asked recently about the part of her career she likes the most, Biles said that she most enjoyed her time off. She also openly admitted that she was more excited for this year’s Olympic Games to be over than for the competition itself, an indication of the pressure she was feeling.
Though she was dubbed ‘America’s sweetheart’ following the 2016 Olympics, Biles has never been afraid to speak her mind when she feels like it.
She has openly discussed the betrayal she felt by USA Gymnastics following the revelations that a blind eye had been turned to the actions of Larry Nassar, who was the team’s doctor and has been convicted of molesting more than 100 young athletes - including Biles - during his 18-year career.
Biles tweeted that the gymnasts should no longer have to train at the centre in which he worked and within three days USA Gymnastics had severed ties with the Texas training camp. She has said that she is looking forward to cutting ties with the organisation herself in the future.
“I’m going to go out there and represent the USA, represent World Champions Centre, and represent Black and brown girls over the world. At the end of the day, I’m not representing USA Gymnastics,” she said leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Likewise, when asked why she pulled out of this week’s events, Biles was open about how the injury holding her back was mental rather than physical. The move has been praised by many.
“These Olympic Games, I wanted it to be about myself. And I came in and I felt I was still doing it for other people, and it hurts my heart that doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people,” she said at a press conference.
From the press box on Tuesday, NBC anchor Hoda Kotb shouted: "I love you Simone!" No doubt she spoke on behalf of millions of the gymnast's fans.