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Simone Biles comes back to gymnastics with a bang after a 2-year break

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Simone Biles is making a comeback to gymnastics following a two-year mental health break. The four-time Olympic champion is now seeking her eighth all-around national title. She competes later today in the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose, Calif. And for more insight on where Simone Biles' career stands and what may lie ahead, I'm joined now by Kiki Baker Barnes. She's the commissioner of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically Black colleges. Good morning, and thanks for being on the program.

KIKI BAKER BARNES: Good morning, Leila. Great to be on with you today.

FADEL: Well, thanks for being here. So let's start with this moment right now and what it means for Simone Biles' career.

BAKER BARNES: Let me tell you, I think that this is a pivotal moment, because what I believe we've learned from Simone is that you can put yourself first and you can still not appear selfish and remain highly competitive. I believe that she's mastered marketing by showing the world how to deal with negativity and maintain her brand in a positive light. You know, when she made the decision to step away from gymnastics, she was criticized very strongly when she did that, because in sports, people often look for you to press through and to press on and you get glory by making it through a tough time. But she changed the model. She took a...

FADEL: Yeah.

BAKER BARNES: ...Step away. And I really think seeing her now in this particular moment, having the opportunity to now - if she takes care of business and she wins this championship, to be the most decorated man or woman gymnast is absolutely phenomenal. And I really think that she is showing our world and our country - she's showing our sports industry professional that there is a better way and that we can take care of ourself...

FADEL: Yeah.

BAKER BARNES: ...As well as still be extremely competitive.

FADEL: I mean, I think people forget how difficult it is to have the expectation of always being great, because she is such an incredible gymnast and does things that we haven't seen other people do. So what are some of the expectations the public and the gymnastics community has of her as she makes her comeback?

BAKER BARNES: Well, I'm going to tell you, Simone Biles is such an incredible gymnast that they have named moves after her. I read an - I recently read an article where they were saying that there's another move she's going to be attempting in her performances and that if she does this really well, she may have a fifth move named after her. So people...

FADEL: Wow.

BAKER BARNES: ...Are really going to be looking for the energy and kind of, you know, is she going to really pull this off? I also think there is this expectation for her to continue to be this role model for young, Black athletes who are looking to do gymnastics. The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, which I'm commissioner of, is, as you said earlier, the only historically Black college and university in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Well, this past year, we had our first gymnastics program launched at Fisk University and then a second one at Talladega College. So I think her representation and what it means for young African American women in gymnastics is just critical, and people are excited to see her perform.

FADEL: That's Kiki Baker Barnes, commissioner of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. Thank you for your time.

BAKER BARNES: Thank you.

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