Simone Biles Redefines Tough Choosing Mental Health Over Olympic Win
When thinking of Simone Biles, it's easy to remember the four-time Olympic gold medalist twisting through the air, making history as the first woman in 53 years to be awarded back-to-back titles at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro all-around gymnastics competition.
The 24-year-old artistic gymnast is the most decorated in her sport, with a combined 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. However, this year in Tokyo, Biles has decided to put the medals race aside and become a champion for her own mental and physical health, withdrawing from the team finals and Thursday's all-around competition.
"It's been really stressful these Olympic Games, just as a whole… there have been a lot of different variables going into it," Biles said during a press conference Tuesday alongside her teammates. "I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat and work on my mindfulness, and I knew that the girls would do a great job and I didn't want to risk the team a medal for my screw-ups because they have worked too hard for that."
The athlete has overcome substantial obstacles throughout her career. Biles has competed through broken bones, kidney stones and survived sexual abuse from U.S. women's national gymnastic team doctor Larry Nassar, who will spend the rest of his life in prison for abusing her and team members. Biles also has continually dealt with pressure from coaches, fans, and the world to continue to perform at her best.
In Tokyo, she reported she was not feeling well before the team final, and the pressure was too much to bear.
"Today was really stressful," Biles admitted. "The workout this morning went okay, it was just the 5.5 hour wait—I was shaking and barely napped. I tried to go out, have fun, and after warming up in the back, I felt a little better, but once I came out here, I felt, no, the mental is not there. I need to let the girls do it and focus on myself."
Her decision was shocking for her team and the world. Yet the rush of support from fans and other athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps —who has himself admitted fighting anxiety and depression for years— came through. USA Gymnastics said in a statement they supported Biles "wholeheartedly" and added the athlete would be assessed daily to determine if she will participate in next week's events.
Until then, Biles' courage has redefined the significance of strength for many.
"I say put mental health first because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport, and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to," she said. "So, it's okay 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 battling through it."