Simone Biles Eyes World Championships After 2 Years Off: ‘I Feel a Lot More Confident Now’ (Exclusive)

In her new collaboration with Athleta Girl, the seven-time Olympic medalist tells PEOPLE she wants to inspire the next generation to "never give up, never back down"

After dominating at the U.S. Classic and the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Simone Biles is eying her next challenge — and is keeping the next generation of girls in mind while she does so.

Next month, the seven-time Olympic medalist, 26, is set to continue her comeback at the world championships in Belgium, after taking two years off from international competition.

Yet even Biles — widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time — gets butterflies.

“I feel like in the very beginning I was very nervous, obviously to step back out there because a lot of athletes when they take a couple years off, you have a little bit of doubt if you're going to even be the same athlete you were, how strong you were going to be,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively at the reveal of her Because I Can Collection for Athleta. “So Classic, I kind of tiptoed my way in there, just tried to get the meet done and over with, kind of make sure I still had that confidence and that belief in myself.”

Related: Simone Biles Makes History After Winning 8th National Gymnastics Title

<p>Marcus Ingram/Getty</p> Simone Biles at her Because I Can Collection reveal

Marcus Ingram/Getty

Simone Biles at her Because I Can Collection reveal

She continues, “And then going into Championships was like, okay, let's get through two dates of competition, see how this goes. Just keep training. So I feel a lot more confident now I'm heading into World Trials and then hopefully making that World team. So it feels a lot better than prior.”

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Biles’ confidence surely soared when she successfully landed what is known as the “world’s most difficult vault” — the Yurchenko double pike — last Friday, despite being two years removed from a very public battle waged during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the dreaded “Twisties,” which led her to recalibrate her mindset, if not her approach.

Related: Simone Biles Celebrates Win at U.S. Classic Following Her Gymnastics Return: 'Tears of Joy'

“I think I've always had the competitive drive, so I don't think that taking the time off taught me a lot about the competitive side of me,” Biles says. “I think it was more about the personal side and getting to truly take care of myself mentally and physically and make sure everything is in tune so that whenever I am competing everything goes well.”

It’s a keen perspective that comes into play both on the mat and off.

In her bright new collaboration with Athleta Girl, the fashion-forward athlete is aiming to inspire the younger set through her trademark phrase “Because I Can.”

<p>Marcus Ingram/Getty</p> Simone Biles

Marcus Ingram/Getty

Simone Biles

“I think the main message that I would send to kids is to never give up, never back down,” Biles says.

The mentality is something that is particularly resonant for the icon, who says she has been motivated on her own journey by athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James and Naomi Osaka.

<p>Marcus Ingram/Getty</p> Simone Biles

Marcus Ingram/Getty

Simone Biles

And as for her next steps, or what could be termed the French elephant in the gym?

“Well, in the future, goodness, I feel like Paris is always a good topic to go to, but I think right now, I'm just going to live in the now,” Biles says. “I just did Classics and Championships and I'm out here competing again when I never thought I would be competing, especially back to the same level and having the same confidence.”

She adds, “So I'm just really proud of myself for that. So I would say I'm looking forward to carrying that energy into the next couple meets this year.”

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