Simone Biles has drawn a line in the sand on mental health in Tokyo

Simone Biles has drawn a line in the sand on mental health in Tokyo

The gymnast recognised by many as the greatest of all time isn’t afraid to tell the world she isn’t perfect. On Tuesday night, Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team final, after competing in one vault that was not up to her usual, dazzling standards.

She exited the floor with a team doctor, as spectators all over the world wondered what was going on. A while later she returned, hugged her teammates, and put on her team USA tracksuit. It was clear she wasn’t going to be competing again.

“I was trying to do a two and a half, and I ended up doing a one and a half. Just got a little bit lost in the air, which is really unfortunate,” Biles told the media afterwards, referring to her vault attempt.

USA gymnastics said her withdrawal related to a “medical issue” in a statement, with Biles later clarifying it was her mental health that was causing her trouble. She was scared of being injured if she continued in her current state of mind, and felt it was best for her team to go on without her. As she said later, she didn’t want to risk her team the opportunity to win a medal.

The US team continued in the competition without her, finishing the final with silver medals behind Russia, who claimed the gold.

“After the performance I did I just didn’t want to go on,” Biles told the media after the event.

“I do not trust myself anymore, I tried to go out there for the team and they stepped up to the plate.”

Biles, who is widely considered the best gymnast of all time, drew a clear boundary on Tuesday, choosing to be vulnerable in front of the world, rather than push through – something she said she would have done in years past.

“I’ll usually persevere and push through things,” she said. “But I just needed to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”

Asked by the media if she had been inspired by Naomi Osaka’s recent openness with mental health, Biles said she had.

“It’s ok sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person you really are. Rather than just battle through it,” she said.

“At the end of the day, we’re human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Heading in to the Olympics, the sporting world had been excited for what Biles would bring to the table. Questions of whether she would pull off moves that no other female gymnast had ever attempted before, swirled around her. Biles said the pressure in the lead up a was a lot to deal with.

After the preliminaries, Biles posted on Instagram that she felt as if she had the “weight of the world” on her shoulders.

“It wasn’t an easy day or my best, but I got through it,” she wrote. “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”

“I know I dust it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me, but damn sometimes it’s hard!”

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