Former Olympian Dominique Dawes offers her support to Simone Biles

"At the end of the day," three-time Olympian Dawes said, Biles "is the one who has to live her life."

Three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes was the face of U.S. gymnastics in the 1990s. 

She was the 1994 all-around senior national champion and competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. She was the first Black athlete — male or female — to win a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics and the first to win an individual Olympic medal for floor exercise. 

The native Marylander’s historic achievements and bright smile made her an icon and landed her on the cover of magazines and cereal boxes. 

Now, the iconic athlete is back in the news, this time showing her support for current star gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, currently underway in Japan after a yearlong delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Former Olympics champion Dominique Dawes (left) has words of wisdom and support for current star Olympics gymnast Simone Biles (right), who withdrew from recent competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photos by Pete Marovich/Getty Images and Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“She needs to do what is best for Simone,” Dawes told Zenger News in an interview. 

“At the end of the day, she is the one who has to live her life. Just like [Japanese-American world tennis champion] Naomi Osaka, who made the decision to not partake in a press conference because she was concerned about her mental health, athletes need to be able to say no,” Dawes said. “If they feel that it’s unhealthy for them, they need to be able to step away.”

Considering her own Olympic experiences, she said she thinks about “the level of sacrifice and commitment and what it took to earn a spot on that Olympic stage.” 

“We did what was told of us,” said Dawes. “Back in the ’90s, gymnasts were literally trained to be robots. It is very much a breath of fresh air to be a 44-year-old mom and to listen to my inner voice now.”

A competitor in gymnastics for decades, Dawes moved away from her family to train at age 6. She told Zenger that while she was known for expressionless faces during competition, she encourages the kids she trains at the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics and Ninja Academy that it is okay to smile.

“I think it is important for our kids to enjoy their childhood,” she said.

In last year’s documentary Art of the Athlete, Dawes talked about the sexual abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar that many young women, including Biles, endured. The abuse was cited as one reason why Biles exited the Olympics — and she was the only survivor on the 2020 Tokyo team. 

Dawes said the investigation into Nassar’s actions is finally “shining a light on a culture that has some horrible, physical and psychological abuse.” 

At her Maryland academy, she says, she seeks to foster “a healthy environment” different from the one that created a culture that cultivated the abuse of so many young girls. 

“While I love sports, it can be a very grueling environment,” she told Zenger. “What I am offering is quite different. I want people to have a healthy introduction to the sport of gymnastics. It is not about building champions. It is more about happy and healthy kids growing up to be healthy adults.”

Since her retirement in 2000, Dawes runs her gymnastics academy and now is the mother of four young children. 

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