It’s sad that we are still having this debate. But it is clear- if Biles says she is not okay, she is not. Period.
- The most decorated American gymnast of the history Simone Biles walked off from Tokyo Olympics.
- Biles says it is not easy “carrying the weight of the world on shoulders” and that her mental health is suffering.
- USA Gymnastics announced that Biles will be further withdrawing from individual all-around competitions too.
“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too.”
These words by the decorated and the greatest gymnast of all times Simone Biles are now echoing throughout the globe. The message is out and clear- mental health is no longer out of park and that, if it needs to be prioritized above the “weight of the world”, do it.
More than 30 combined Olympic and World Championship medals still couldn’t coerce the decorated American gymnast from taking a staunch stand against the mental cost of Olympics for the athletes. Right from the moment Biles walked into the Ariake Gymnastics Center for the women’s gymnastic team competition, it was all over her face. The otherwise smililng and energized gymnast appeared rather troubled on July 27.
It became prominent when Biles missed on her two and a half twisting vault and could only land one and a half twists in the first round. It was when she told her coach Cecile Landi that she would like to withdraw from the team final.
“I was not going to cost the team a medal,” she said. “I needed to call it. They said, if Simone says this, we need to take it seriously.”
Later on Wednesday, the USA Gymnastics announced that Biles’ decision to withdraw will follow to the individual all-around competition as well. This was to “focus on her mental health.”
Athletes setting examples of not just physical wellbeing, but mental too, is the change we need.
There is a lot at the stake when an entire country is expecting a gold medal, and the first and unfortunately, the most unacknowledged on the list is the athlete’s mental health. This holds especially true when the track record of the athlete is nothing short of brilliant, and the active female athlete advocacy has compelled fans to expect more than just a medal- a symbol of women empowerment.
Greatest gymnasts like Simone Biles might be extraordinary at making it all look easy, however, there is always a saturation point. The most recent example before Simone Biles was witnessed at the French Open when Naomi Osaka pulled out after revealing the detrimental effect of press conferences on her mental health. She also came out clear about her struggles with depression during that time.
Most often while expecting wins from athletes at championships, we forget that along with the national weight of sports domination, they also carry personal emotional baggage just like any other human being. In 2018, Biles spoke about being a sexual abuse survivor and since then, has been working with therapists. Simone Biles was sexually abused by her gymnastic team doctor Larry Nassar in 2018 and working another year with USA Gymnastics, the same organization that failed to protect her and her fellow athletes, is itself a challenge unspoken.
Athlete’s mental health- a stigma that needs to break
When Biles walked out in the middle of the game to her coach, journalists and players sitting around speculated whether she is injured or in not in good health. However, what no one noticed or even thought about was if she is mentally troubled? History’s greatest gymnast taught us an essential lesson in Tokyo Olympics- mental health is health and it matters equally.
What Biles teaches us is that, you don’t need to wait to take care of your mental health until it spirals out of control. According to the gymnast, she was not able to take a proper nap and was shaking a night before the showdown. And it said a lot because this has never happened with her before. It was the lack of synchronization between her mind and body that made her realize that it is the time to step out.
“I felt the girls needed to do the rest of the competition without me,” she said. “I needed to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”
“It was definitely something unexpected,” said Chiles, who trains with Biles in Spring, Texas, and is close friends with her. “We were emotional when we found out that she wasn’t going to continue. We went out there and did what we had to do, and I’m very proud we were able to do that. At the end of the day, this medal is definitely for her. Because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. We wouldn’t be Olympic silver medalists.”
After several years of being the greatest athlete to go down in history, a black woman and an advocate of female domination in the sports industry, maybe its time for another addition in the Biles’ list of activism.
Maybe it’s time Biles make a stride towards improving mental health ecosystem for athletes.