Gymnast Simone Biles withdraws from Olympics to focus on mental well-being

Published 29 Jul, 2021 11:18am

"I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times," she said ahead of her decision to withdraw.

Champion Simone Biles will not defend her Olympic title.

The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from Thursday’s all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.

USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles removed herself from the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.

The organisation said Biles will be evaluated daily before deciding if she will participate in next week’s individual events. Biles qualified for the finals on all four apparatuses, something she didn’t even do during her five-medal haul in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Biles spent a portion of Wednesday evening watching American teammates Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone compete in the men’s all-around finals. Mikulak, a three-time Olympian, praised Biles’ decision.

“We’ve had some conversations (and) she seems like she’s doing what’s best for her,” Mikulak said. “It’s awesome to see that she’s gotten to go against the pressure of society and do what’s best for herself.”

The 24-year-old came to Tokyo as possibly the face of the Games following the retirement of swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt. She topped qualifying on Sunday despite piling up mandatory deductions on vault, floor and beam following shaky dismounts.

She posted on social media on Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She wrote, "I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard! The olympics is no joke!"

The weight became too heavy after vaulting during team finals. She lost herself in mid-air and completed 1 1/2 twists instead of 2 1/2. She consulted with US team doctor Marcia Faustin before walking off the field of play.

When she returned, she took off her bar grips, hugged teammates Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles and turned into the team’s head cheerleader as the US claimed silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee.

“Once I came out here (to compete), I was like, ‘No mental is, not there so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,’” Biles said following the medal ceremony.

Biles' decision comes after Tennis player Naomi Osaka's early exit from the Olympics, after which the she conceded that the Olympic cauldron was a bit too much to handle mentally. Before the Olympics, Osaka had also withdrawn from the French Open and never went to Wimbledon.

Biles and Osaka are two of many other high-profile athletes in the Olympic space — overwhelmingly females — who have been talking openly about mental health, a topic that had been taboo in sports for seemingly forever.

Many public figures and athletes have lauded Biles' decision to prioritise her health before her athletic pursuits, a precedent that needs to be set for gymnasts. Retired American gymnast Dominique Moceanu shared her support and said, "I was 14 years old with a tibial stress fracture, left alone without a cervical spine exam after this fall. I competed in the Olympic floor final minutes later. Simone Biles' decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health — 'a say' I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian."

UNICEF also tweeted in support of the athlete and said, "Thank you Simone Biles for being a role model and showing the world it's okay to prioritise your mental health. Looking forward to following along in your future endeavours!".

Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around.