Within the past year, mental health has been very fragile, as everyone is adjusting to new ways of life. Getting back into the swing of things isn’t easy, and Simone Biles is no exception. The 24-year-old gymnast from Columbus, Ohio, withdrew from the team competition for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.
On Tuesday, eight qualifying female gymnastic teams walked onto the Olympic floor, ready to compete. The teams included Russia, America, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, France, China, and Belgium. With America holding gold medals in the female team gymnast events since 2012, the stakes were high, and the pressure was on to maintain the streak.
The American team of athletes consisted of Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum. Biles has been labeled the “Greatest Of All Time” or “GOAT,” and for good reasons. Biles won four Olympic gold medals and a bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Furthermore, Biles has been noted as the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history with 25 medals in total, including 19 gold, according to Eurosport. Biles also has four moves named after her, as she was the first in the world to land them successfully in competition. Simone had a big task at hand with the pressure of representing her team and country with the title the world had given her.
On Tuesday, Simone was set to kick off her competition night with a vault routine, which is considered one of her strongest events. The New York Times reports that Biles had planned on doing an Amanar. An Amanar consists of 2.5 twists. Unfortunately, Biles was only able to complete 1.5 twists before stumbling out of her landing. She claims she “lost her bearings in the air.” After the event, she pulled out of the team competition due to a mental health issue. Additionally, a further medical evaluation determined that she is not ready to compete, according to The Guardian. Lee, Chiles, and McCallum filled in for Biles, scoring a 166.096 total, scoring only 3.432 points behind the Russians, winning them a silver medal.
Biles’ concern about her mental health and the way she prioritized it caught the attention of many. Many athletes support her choice, with one of her biggest advocates being the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps. Phelps explained how seeing Biles leave the arena “broke his heart.” As stated by CBS, Phelps recalled his own mental health battles while speaking to reporters. He exclaimed how it was “hard to ask for support when he needed it.” Phelps further added, “We carry a lot of weight on our shoulders, and it’s challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations being thrown on top of us.”
“I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board, and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine.”
– Michael Phelps
Phelps wasn’t the only major athlete publicly defending Simone. Katie Ledecky, who won her 6th gold medal on Tuesday for the women’s 1500m, claims that “Everyone around the world is watching. Certainly, Simone has so many eyes on her… You can feel like a lot of people are watching you, and every move you make is being watched and judged.” Additionally, the American sprinter and long jumper Tianna Bartoletta believes that Biles’s actions would “resonate far beyond the sport.” Bartoletta argues, “They watched the greatest gymnast of all-time walk off the biggest stage, and I guarantee you that for the first time that same someone somewhere is thinking… if she can walk away from that – with all that on the line for her, with the entire country and maybe even the world coming in hot with their hot takes – maybe, just maybe I can take this step to walk too.”
Biles states that she quit for her “mind and body” and the International Olympic Committee backed her for her courageous and prideful actions. Her honest and brave actions have opened the door for many overdue discussions about athlete’s mental health.