Simone Biles received a flood of support from fellow gymnasts, other athletes and celebrities after pulling out of the women’s team event at the Tokyo Olympics to prioritise mental health concerns.
Putting her mental struggles in front of the world saw Biles join a growing number of world-class athletes from across sport, such as Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka and US swim legend Michael Phelps, who have opened up about coping with stress and the mental grind and toll of their success.
“I have to focus on my mental health,” Biles said. “I didn’t want to go out and do something stupid and get hurt... At the end of the day we don’t want to be carried out of there on a stretcher.”
Biles came into the team finals after uncharacteristic stumbles in qualifying that left the US women behind their Russian opponents. The slate was clean however for Tuesday, but after failing to nail her opening vault Biles’ night took a dramatic turn as she walked off the competition floor, causing consternation at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
As her team warmed up for the uneven bars, Biles re-emerged, but the US team withdrew her from the rest of the final. She watched the action unfold alongside her teammates, clapping and even dancing, undercutting any suggestion of an injury.
Biles’ decision has been widely hailed as a game-changing moment for elite sport, helping to dispel enduring stigmas surrounding mental health.
Among those supportive of Biles was Aly Raisman, who finished second to Biles in the all-around at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Raisman and Biles were among the gymnasts who spoke up about former US gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in 2018 for sexual abuse of athletes.
Asked about the pressure upon an athlete, Raisman told US Olympic telecaster NBC, “I feel sick to my stomach. It’s just horrible. It’s just so much pressure,” and said, “I think people forget sometimes we’re human.”
Biles had said she felt the “weight of the world” on her shoulders before taking part in a vault and pulling out of the team event, where her compatriots went on to take a silver medal.
With AFP Inputs