Simone Biles competed in a teal-colored leotard in a display of solidarity with the sexual abuse victims of former USA team doctor Larry Nassar.
The Olympic champion wore the garment on her way to winning her fifth US women’s gymnastics title on Sunday.
She explained she had designed the leotard for the ‘survivors’ of sexual abuse, a group that includes Biles, who revealed in January she was among Nassar’s victims.
‘[The color] is for the survivors,’ Biles said after becoming the first woman in 24 years to post the top score on every event on her way to a national championship. ‘I stand with all of them and I think it’s kind of special to unite [us].’
Teal became associated with survivors of sexual assault in 2000, and ribbons in the color are worn as a symbol of sexual assault awareness and prevention.
Simone, 21, came up with the idea to wear a teal leotard at the competition eight months ago, long before she knew how her comeback following a post-Olympic break would go. In the end, it simultaneously served as a beacon to her otherworldly gymnastics while also highlighting the need to keep the Nassar victims at the forefront of the sport.
Nearly 200 women read impact statements to 55-year-old Nassar at his sexual abuse trial in January.
His victims included all five members of the 2012 Olympic team – Kyla Ross, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney.
2016 team member Madison Kocian also came forward last week, alongside her UCLA teammate Ross, to reveal that she was also a survivor of the doctor’s abuse.
Nassar is serving up to 235 years in prison after he was found guilty of sexually abusing athletes in his care following his lengthy trial.
Biles’ electric performance came hours after USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry spent 22 minutes talking around the fallout of the Nassar scandal without offering much in the way of substance in her first extended public comments since taking over last December.
Perry danced around the question when asked if the organization planned to do anything specific to honor the survivors. Ultimately, USA Gymnastics did not, though Perry said she envisions a day when the organization and the victims stand ‘side by side.’
Since coming forward the gymnasts some athletes say they haven’t heard anything from the national team.
‘Being on national team for all those years, we were really silenced. We didn’t really have a voice and say as athletes,’ Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross said. ‘Personally, we both have not heard anything [from USA Gymnastics].
‘And it’s been saddening to know that a lot of gymnasts have gone through this event and they have not reached out and seen how we’re doing as people, not as just athletes, but as individuals who grew up in this sport,’ she added.
The USA Gymnastics board has changed over the course of the past two years with a new president and board of directors.
‘There are still people at the top that I feel have overseen this issue for a long time and I think that needs to be changed as well as the whole culture around everything,’ Rio gold medalist Kocian said.
‘I don’t think enough has been changed from the coaching standpoint. There are still coaches under that abusive style of coaching whether it’s verbal abuse, that’s what enables all of this,’ she added.
Ross and Kocian have both filed civil lawsuits against Michigan State – where Nassar worked for decades – and plan to do the same against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
Biles herself came forward to speak about Nassar’s abuse in January, revealing in a powerful #MeToo post on social media that she was also a victim of the former team doctor.
‘Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately…I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams,’ wrote Biles at the beginning of her post.
She then shared that Nassar had also been sexually abusing her while she trained at the national facility in Texas.
‘Please believe me when I say it was a lot harder to first speak those words out loud than it is now to put them on paper,’ explained Biles.
‘There are many reasons that I have been reluctant to share my story, but I now know it is not my fault.’
The Olympic champion – who has set her sights on securing a place on Team USA for the 2020 Games, where she is already the early favorite to win the all-around – went on to praise her fellow gymnasts who had already come forward to speak about the abuse.
‘After hearing the brave stories of my friends and other survivors, I know that this horrific experience does not define me,’ wrote Biles.
‘I am much more than this. I am unique, smart, talented, motivated and passionate.’
She closed out her powerful letter by stating: ‘We need to know why this was able to take place for so long and to so many of us. We need to make sure something like this never happens again.’
While speaking out about the abuse later that month, Biles said it was ‘ridiculous’ that she had still not heard from the US Olympic Committee’s officials.
She has heard from the new president of USA Gymnastics, which employed Nassar, but she said they did not discuss the abuse.
‘The new president, Kerry Perry, she flew down for a visit and we didn’t talk [about] any of that,’ Biles said.
‘She wanted to introduce herself because I, out of the girls, is the only one back in the gym so far so she reached out to me but other than that the USOC has not reached out yet.’
Biles, who did not attend the hearings but wrote to the judge in a statement, said she was happy with the sentence her abuser received.
‘I was very happy, I wish she would have given him like a crazy number, like 3,000 years or something but other than that, she was a boss and she was absolutely amazing,’ she said during interviews with Hoda Kotb and Megyn Kelly on the Today show earlier this year.
‘The judge is my hero because she gave it to him straight and didn’t let him get any power over any of the girls and letting the girls speak was very powerful,’ she added.
LARRY NASSAR TIMELINE: RISE AND FALL OF USA GYMNASTICS PEDOPHILE DOCTOR