Simone Biles is one of the greatest gymnasts and one of the greatest athletes of all time. Earlier this year, Biles made history when she became the first female athlete to effortlessly perform the Yurchenko double pike vault in a competition. Biles also became the first female athlete and Olympian to be honored with her own goat-themed emoji this past week. It’s clear that only great things awaited the champion at the Tokyo Olympics.
However, as the world watched Biles take to the mat, it became clear that she had lost her way. While she physically seemed ready to go, her mental health seemed to be taking a toll on her. The world soon learned that Biles was stepping back from the Olympics to take care of her mental health.
Simon Biles Chooses Mental Health Over Olympic Gold
“I don’t trust myself as much as I used to,” she said, adding that she’s not having as much fun. “This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself but I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
On Tuesday, Bile’s performance was far from perfect. She clearly lost track of her movements, looking almost lost and shaken, failing to perform the skill she intended. Following her uncharacteristically poor performance, Biles walked off the mat and spoke to medical staff members. She was heard saying“I can’t do it, I’m out” before leaving the competition.
The pressures of perfection
Simone Biles with her coach during the team final/Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
It’s been a long year for everyone, including elite athletes. They’ve had to deal with a pandemic. However, they’ve also had to deal with a postponed Olympics that threw both their professional and personal lives into disarray. The fact is, just because they’re finally getting to perform at the Olympics, it doesn’t mean that the pressure is off.
“It’s been really stressful this Olympic Games… it’s been a long week, a long Olympic process, a long year,” Biles said, according to Michele Steele of ESPN. “I think we’re a little too stressed out — we should be out here having fun and that’s just not the case.”
While Biles has been in therapy ever since the world learned about former US gymnasts team doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse, the pressures of the past few days have definitely gotten to her,
“Therapy has helped a lot as well as medicine and I feel like that’s all been going really well,” she said. “But whenever you get in a high stress situation you freak out and you don’t really know how to handle all of those emotions, especially being here at the Olympic Games.”
Teamwork makes the (Olympic) dream work
“Today it’s like, you know what, no, I don’t want to do something stupid and get hurt,” Biles said about stepping back from the competition.“And it’s just it’s not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes that can step up to the plate and do it”
Biles’ decision to step back from the game all but ensured that Russia won gold. This left the American team to get silver. However, her teammates and her coaches have surrounded her with the utmost support.
“It was very emotional losing someone so important to the team,” said American gymnast and teammate Sunisa Lee said. “I feel like these Olympic Games were kind of hers.”
“They’re silver medalists,” Biles said. “So it’s something they should be very proud of because they did it without me.”
The mental health Olympics
Biles isn’t the first athlete to take a step back from sports in order to prioritize her mental health.
Naomi Osaka recently made headlines for doing the same earlier this year. The Olympics marked her first return to the tennis court. Unfortunately, she lost the third round of the women’s singles tennis tournament. Osaka admitted that she buckled under the pressure, saying that “The scale of everything is a bit hard.”
Photograph by Williams & Hirakawa—AUGUST
Speaking about Osaka, Biles cited her as an inspiration, and she admired her dedication to protecting her mental health,
“She’s been a huge inspiration,” Biles said. “A couple of days ago I watched her whole docuseries on Netflix, and it really shined a light on it. It’s like, wow she’s one of the greatest athletes in the world, and she took a step back, and now look at her, she’s back here at the Olympics dominating. So sometimes it is OK to take a back seat – even at the most important meet.”