For decades, athletes were told to shake it off or toughen up — to set aside the doubt, or the demons, and focus on the task at hand: winning. Dominating. Getting it done.
For years, Simone Biles was one of the very best at that.
Whenever Biles pulls on her leotard, it’s as though she’s tightening a cape around her neck. She’s the hero tasked with saving a sullied sport, embodying some trite belief in American dominance — and also carrying a gender and an entire race.
That’s a heavy cape, and it chokes.
Suddenly — to some, shockingly — she decided she wasn’t in the right headspace.
For one day, Simone Biles wasn’t the GOAT. Suddenly the perfect GOAT was shaken and it shook the nation to its core too.
By pulling on her white sweatsuit in the middle of Tuesday night’s Olympic gymnastics meet, and by doing it with a gold medal hanging in the balance, Biles might very well have redefined the mental health discussion that’s been coursing through sports for the past year.
Superstar Simone Biles said she pulled out of the women’s gymnastics team finals Tuesday because she has been fighting internal demons, choosing to take a back seat because she didn’t want to ruin her team’s chance at a medal.
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” Biles posted to Instagram a day before the team finals.
I can understand why Biles felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She has long been the face of not only gymnastics, but of black excellence , black women excellence and of American Olympics as a whole.
But the thing is: It’s okay for Biles just to be amazing. Let her greatness stand on its own. We can be wowed and celebrate her without also expecting her to single-handedly revive gymnastics after a sexual abuse scandal, while also leading little Black girls to balance beams all over the nation.
It’s noble, and she’s tried to hoist that pressure on her 4-foot-8 frame all by herself. But it’s also harmful, and unfair. And after a year infused with anxiety, combined with that pressure we shouldn’t have been shocked that her mental was not perfect.
Biles said she was inspired by tennis star Naomi Osaka, who also lost at the Olympics on Tuesday, to focus on her mental health. Before the Olympics, Osaka hadn’t played a match since her first-round win at the French Open. She pulled out of Roland Garros after that match to prioritize her mental health.
“There’s more to life than just gymnastics,” Biles said. “Once I came out here, I was like, no the mental is not there, I had to let the girls do it.”
With Biles on the sidelines, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team settled for silver in the team final at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday while the Russian Olympic Committee won the team gold.
“This medal is definitely for (Biles), because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here,” teammate Jordan Chiles said. “We wouldn’t be silver Olympic medalists (if not for) who she is as a person.”
Biles was on the sidelines cheering her teammates as they hit their routines on bars and beam. She was seen talking to IOC president Thomas Bach after the meet, and was the first person to walk across and congratulate the ROC on their gold medal.
Biles joined her teammates on the podium to get her silver medal.
One of the biggest Olympic stars in the world, Biles won four gold medals and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics. She has racked up five more all-around titles in world championships since 2013.
She entered Tokyo as the prohibitive favorite to defend her all-around gold medal, rack up some event medals and the team crown as well.
The all-around competition is Thursday with Biles scheduled to compete.
But like Biles said, there’s more to life than just gymnastics, even if she has dedicated her entire life to the 90 second routines.
One’s mental health supersedes any routine, sport, job, etc.
Anyone who is critiquing an athlete or individual for choosing their well being over anything is an idiot. A lot of right wing sports media members chose to take the important moment of an all time great gold medalist admitting that she is struggling mentally, to bash her.
A moment so unfortunate but equally important should be praised and welcomed with open arms, not attacked and torn down. Doing the latter reverts us back to a country who forever had ignored and trashed mental health issues after recent years to break said stigmas.
But I took solace in knowing that majority of the sports world understood and welcomed Biles’ decision.
We have a long long way to go to eradicate the stigmas surrounding mental health, particularly in sports, but today we took a monumental step forward. And it is thanks to the bravery and courage of Simone Biles.