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For months, the hype surrounding the 2020 Summer Olympics has been building, and for most of it, the spotlight has been on Simone Biles. The 24-year-old Texan, dubbed the “GOAT” and widely recognized as the best gymnast in the world, became the face of the American team at the Tokyo games. With her at the helm, Team USA was favored to take home the gold in the all-around team event final. But from the start of qualifiers earlier in the week, it was clear that Biles was not in typical form. It was shocking to her team and the world at large when, after competing in one vault rotation in the team finals, Biles left the gym floor. When she returned, it was announced that she was withdrawing from the event.
The team, comprised of Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum, went on to win silver without her. Chiles stepped in to compete in several events replacing Biles.
Biles’s decision deepens the conversations surrounding athletes and mental health, which was, is some ways started by tennis star Naomi Osaka earlier this year. And in the days since Biles decided to take prioritize her well being, celebrities like Justin Bieber and fellow decorated Olympians like Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin have spoken out in support of her.
In an Instagram post Bieber wrote, “nobody will ever understand the pressures you face! I know we don’t know each other but I’m so proud of the decision to withdraw. It’s as simple as- what does it mean to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul. Sometimes our no’s are more powerful than our yes’s. When what you normally love starts to steal your joy it’s important we take a step back to evaluate why. People thought I was crazy for not finishing the purpose tour but it was the best thing I could have done for my mental health!!”
Trainer Andrea Orris posted the following in defense of Biles decision:
“We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team “doctor” throughout her entire childhood and teen years, WON the World All-Around Championship title WHILE PASSING A KIDNEY STONE, put her body through an extra year of training through the pandemic, added so much difficulty to her routines that the judges literally do not know how to properly rate her skills because they are so ahead of her time, and countless more obstacles that we may not even know of. All of this while maintaining her responsibilities to her endorsement deals, the media, personal relationships, etc. And some people can still honestly say, “Simone Biles is soft. She is a quitter.” That girl has endured more trauma by the age of 24 than most people will ever go through in a lifetime.
For non-gymnasts who may not understand, the fact that she balked mid-air and accidentally did a 1.5 on her first vault instead of a 2.5 IS A BIG DEAL. It’s TERRIFYING. She could have been SEVERELY injured getting lost in the air like that. The fact she somehow landed on her feet shows her experience and is incredible. The margin for error on a skill like that is insanely low. A very small wrong move, and career-ending or even worse, life-threatening injuries can occur.
After her track record of all she’s pushed through - the fact that she took herself out of the competition on her own merit means that what ever she is dealing with internally has to be insurmountable and should be taken seriously. Despite what she’s able/choosing to articulate to the public in interviews, we will never know or fully understand her personal choices and struggles. She deserves respect. She deserves compassion. She does not deserve to have any judgement passed - number 1, because she’s a human. And number 2, after all she’s done for the sport. Plus all that she’s had to endure BECAUSE of this sport, and the joke of an organization who PROTECTED her predator instead of her and her teammates for years.”
It was later announced Biles was also withdrawing from the individual all-around final. It is still unknown if she will compete in the individual apparatus events later this week. In media interviews, she has said she’s taking it day by day and assessing her needs as she goes.
All the while, Biles has remained active on her social media accounts, posting congratulations when the team won silver ("They stepped up when I couldn’t," she wrote.), reposting messages of support, and retweeting posts like “! PRIORITIZE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH !” But for the first time today, she spoke out in direct response to the support she’s received.
“The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” Biles wrote on Instagram.
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