Simone Biles makes history as youngest living person to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Olympic gymnast and LGBTQ+ activist Simone Biles has become the youngest living person to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom after US President Joe Biden awarded her the honour.
The 25-year-old was among the 17 honourees who were awarded the medal in a ceremony at the White House on Thursday (7 July). She is one of the most decorated US gymnasts in history with 32 Olympic and world championship medals – including four gold Olympic medals, one silver and two bronze.
“I don’t know if you’re going to find room,” president Biden joked while delivering a speech to attendees on the athlete’s history. “When we see her compete, we see unmatched power and determination, grace and daring. A trailblazer and a role model.”
Biles won her first set of Olympic-level medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics where she became the first female US gymnast to win four medals at a single Games. She was also the first gymnast to win three world all-around titles from 2013 to 2015.
In her spare time, Simone Biles has been an outspoken advocate for various disadvantaged groups, as well as a staunch LGBTQ+ ally. Her defence of LGBTQ+ people, especially at a time when their participation in sports is increasingly disputed, is a symbol of hope for athletes across the world.
In 2020, she received backlash from anti-LGBTQ+ protestors after featuring in an Uber Eats ad with Queer Eye’s Johnathon Van Ness where they performed various splits and stunts. In response, the delivery company lambasted claims that it was “pushing the LGBTQ+ agenda on families”, saying that “at Uber Eats, we’re unapologetically committed to representing the flavour spectrum.”
“When she stands on the podium, we see what she is,” Biden continued. “Absolute courage to turn personal pain into a greater purpose, to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
As well as Biles, several other late and great figureheads were picked to receive the honour, including late politician and US Navy Officer John McCain, award-winning actor Denzel Washington and Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.
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Megan Rapinoe was also in attendance to receive the medal, becoming the first soccer player to earn the honour. She and Biles are among the few female athletes to be awarded the medal.
Rapinoe donned a white suit that had a dedication to WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner – who has been detained in Russia for months on drugs charges – embroidered on the jacket.
The soccer co-captain also spoke out in an Instagram story post after Griner’s plea had been announced, saying: “This plea doesn’t change that @potus needs to and is working hard to get her home.
“From what I understand she had to plea to keep the process of getting her home asap in motion.”
Just hours prior to the ceremony, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, saying that “there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law”.