Olympic champion Simone Biles made history with a sweep of wins at the U.S. national gymnastics championships competition on Sunday, but all eyes were also trained on the bright teal leotard she chose for the occasion.
Teal is the color designated for survivors of sexual assault, a community in which Biles counts herself, along with hundreds of others in the gymnastics world and beyond. It was a strong message that stood out against awkward and indirect statements from USA Gymnastics, the organization that employed former sports doctor Larry Nassar for decades as he abused the women under his care, including Biles.
After her performance on Sunday, Biles became the first American woman to win five all-around national titles, adding to her record-tying four gold medals from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Performing so stunningly in her chosen leotard color was “for the survivors,” Biles said. She also became the first woman since Dominique Dawes in 1994 to post the top score in every event before winning the national title.
To perform so stunningly while projecting a message of solidarity—“I stand with all of them, and I think it’s kind of special to unite,” Biles said on the day—stood out against the relative silence from USA Gymnastics organizers. Despite the huge toll that Nassar’s crimes has taken on the community (more than 100 women gave blistering testimony against him at his sentencing hearing earlier this year), USAG CEO Kerry Perry fumbled through questions on whether or not there would be any acknowledgment of the victims or their trauma at the competition. There was none—despite the many survivors, including Biles and her former teammate Aly Raisman, in the room. Both athletes had been critical of Perry in the eight months since she took over from the previous USAG head; in her brief meeting with the press on Sunday, the first time she has spoken publicly in her role, Perry insisted that she had met with Biles and her parents. After her victory, Biles disputed the claim: “She really hasn’t talked to my family too much,” Biles said about Perry. “I know we had an interaction in January. It was like, ‘Hey, whatever her title is, president of USAG,’ and [she was] just kind of passing through. That was it.”
Meanwhile, Biles thanked Raisman for her support on Twitter, ending her message with “love you” and a teal heart.