Gymnasts Are Supporting Simone Biles’ Decision To Prioritize Her Mental Health
Simone Biles has broken gymnastics records with her skill and strength, and her most recent decision to prioritize mental health over competition shows she’s still changing the sport from the inside out.
America’s most-decorated gymnast withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team final on the fourth day of the Tokyo Olympics due to mental health concerns. She may still compete in the individual rounds, but the 24-year-old told reporters that she chose to prioritize her well being over negatively affecting her fellow gymnasts with a shaky performance in the team event.
“I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job and I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for my screw ups because they’ve worked way too hard for that, so I just decided that those girls need to go and do the rest of the competition,” Biles said.
Former team USA gymnasts are now speaking out in support Biles’ decision to prioritize mental health in the sport.
“I feel sick to my stomach, it’s just horrible,” Aly Raisman, Biles’ former 2016 Olympic teammate said on Today in response to the pressure that can be placed on one person to perform as highly as Biles.
Leading up to the Tokyo games, Biles’ campaign for six possible gold medals dominated headlines. But just one day before she dropped out of the team final, Biles’ posted on Instagram that she felt the “weight of the world” on her shoulders.
“I know that all of these athletes dream of this moment for their whole entire lives, and I’m just completely devastated,” Raisman said of her teammate. “I am obviously so worried and just hoping that Simone is okay.”
Raisman added that she worried about the “mental impact” the pressure for victory has had on Biles; “It’s just so much pressure.”
She also said Biles has “pain” and “stress” like all humans do despite the attention the media has paid her ground-breaking performances. Biles’ decision brings to light the level of difficulty gymnasts must tackle, Raisman said, which can be difficult to remember when a competitor like Biles “makes it look so easy.”
In a sport where athletes are rewarded for their gravity-defying feats, Raisman said it’s easy for the world to dismiss how much mental strength is behind Biles’ demonstrations of her physical power.
“I think people forget sometimes we’re human,” she said.
Raisman was one of Biles’ teammates who joined her in speaking up about sexual abuse charges against former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in 2019 for sexually abusing young athletes for decades. The pain the gymnastics community shared amid the fallout of Nassar’s conviction had to have been “very rough” for Biles, according to Dr. Steven Ungerleider, who serves on the executive board of the International Paralympic Committee.
“[Biles] is not only focused on being the greatest athlete in the world and then minutes later she’s putting on a diplomat suit and talking about the politics of the sport,” Ungerleider told BuzzFeed News. “For any athlete at any age, that’s complete overload.”
Ungerleider said the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated mental health issues for many competitors like Biles who were forced to delay competition, adjust training schedules, and rethink their coaching. Being thrown back into competition can trigger some of those stressors and bring up new feelings, he added.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee, expressed her support for Biles, telling her in a tweet that “you’ve made us so proud.”
“Proud of who you are as a person, teammate and athlete” she said. “We applaud your decision to prioritize your mental wellness over all else, and offer you the full support and resources of our Team USA community as you navigate the journey ahead.”
Another fellow US gymnast, Laurie Hernandez, also said she understood her former teammate’s choice given the pressure for Biles’ to carry the team to victory.
“Having to put that much pressure on her to carry the team to gold, it’s not fair,” Hernandez said. “This is a team of four, not a team of one.”
Hernandez admitted that when she was a member of the 2016 Olympic team, they relied on Biles’ strengths “like a safety net.”
“I know she’s the best, but that is horrifying,” Hernandez said of relying on Biles to carry the team to gold.
But she also called out the immense and sudden pressure placed on Biles’ three other teammates, Suni Lee, Grace McCallum, and Jordan Chiles, to fight for victory after their leader withdrew.
“we need to talk about the amount of pressure on these three ladies. what an AWESOME bar rotation!!absolutely smashed it. and jordan??? ok miss underdog you show em what you can do,” Hernandez said in a tweet.
Two US men’s gymnasts team members, Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus, also commented on Biles’ departure emphasizing the need for empathy.
“Things happen, but we just have to understand the situation,” Moldauer said told Today on Tuesday.
Biles’ decision will also serve as a signal to younger athletes not to be shy about asking for help, Ungerleider said.
“I think we’re gonna see more athletes come forward and not be so stoic, but just say, ‘Hey, there’s mental health that needs to be addressed,'” Ungerleider said. “A lot of athletes just tough it out, and then come home and have a crash … Simone just brings such great honor to us all by saying, ‘Yes, I’m a gifted athlete. Yes, I do these amazing maneuvers. But, I’m also human. And guess what? I do need time and I am struggling.'”
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July 27, 2021 at 01:27PM