Simone Biles awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

The gymnast is the youngest person to receive the medal, Biden said.

July 07, 2022, 5:42 PM

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles added another medal to her portfolio Thursday, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The gymnast received the award from President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony, along with 16 other recipients, including soccer star and fellow Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and late Arizona Sen. John McCain.

At 25, Biles made history as the youngest person to be awarded the honor, according to Biden.

"Hearing that I was the youngest was a huge honor," Biles told reporters outside the White House on Thursday. "It's kind of scary because it is the best award you can receive in your whole like, so now it's kind of scary, like, 'Oh, what do I do now?' But it's a huge honor."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Simone Biles, Olympic gold medal gymnast and mental health advocate, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Simone Biles, Olympic gold medal gymnast and mental health advocate, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to "individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors," according to the White House.

When asked where the honor ranked among her many Olympic medals, Biles said it was "at the top."

""Going to the Olympics and winning all those medals, I put in so many years of hard work and stuff but to be recognized from the president and everything else is really special," she told reporters.

At Thursday's ceremony, Biles was recognized as a former foster child who became a "once in a generation athlete" and the "most decorated American gymnast in history," including her seven Olympic medals.

In addition to her athletic accomplishments, Biles was also recognized for her work as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and for mental health.

"With courage and honesty, she expands the legacy of our greatest champions who challenge the powerful and speak up for justice and the wellness of body and mind," the White House said.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks before he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks before he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Last year, Biles was among a group of elite U.S. gymnasts who testified before Congress about what they said were failures in the FBI's handling of the sexual abuse case against Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor.

Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women.

In her testimony, Biles tied her performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to her struggle to recover mentally after being abused by Nassar. She dropped out of several competitions in Tokyo citing her mental health.

Biles has also spoken previously about suffering from depression and having to take anxiety medication as a result of Nassar's abuse.

Following her decision in Tokyo, Biles faced criticism from some, but was widely applauded for listening to her body and prioritizing her mental health.

Biles told reporters Thursday that Biden had commended her for her courage in speaking out on tough issues.

"It was really exciting to hear that and to know that my hard work is paying off ... he said that's why they chose me," she said.

After the Tokyo Olympics, Biles said the experience taught her to stand up for herself, telling New York Magazine last year, "I learned a lot about myself -- courage, resilience, how to say no and speak up for yourself."

On Thursday, Biles said she hopes other young women will take away from her Presidential Medal of Freedom that it is important to "speak up."

"I think it will really teach them that ... you can do anything you put your mind to," Biles told reporters. "And just to speak up and use your platforms, be authentic to yourself and stay true to yourself and just go out there and have fun in whatever your adventure is."

With additional reporting by Molly Nagle.

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