Simone Biles: An Olympic Champion, And More Importantly a Trendsetter
Biles, 24, is regarded as a GOAT. With her decision to withdraw due to mental health issues, she is a trendsetter
Four-time Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles was expected to continue her gold rush in this edition of the Olympics after stunning the world with her performances in Rio.
Widely considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Biles has stunned the world once again, only it's with her actions off the mat.
One day after her post on social media where she said she felt at times like the 'weight of the world' was on her shoulder, Biles withdrew from the first event she was competing in at the Tokyo Olympics – the group final.
While speaking at the press conference after the event, in which USA eventually won a silver, Biles explained why she made the decision to withdraw.
"We also have to focus on ourselves because at the end of the day we're human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do," said the 24-year-old.
On Wednesday, Biles Withdraws From a Second Event
Just hours after that press conference, the American contingent announced Biles' decision to pull out of a second event – all-around event, in which she's the defending champion. They decision, they further elaborated, was made so she could "focus on her mental health".
"After a further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, to focus on her mental health. Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week's event finals. Jade Carey, who had the ninth-highest score in qualifications, will participate in her place in the all-arounded event," read the statement Tweeted by USA Gymnastics.
Support From Another Olympic Legend
While support poured in from all corners for the gymnast, there was another American Olympic star present in Tokyo, who could understand exactly where Biles' decision was coming from.
"It broke my heart," Phelps said of Biles' shocking announcement. He hoped that the decision will have a lasting impact beyond the Olympic Games.
"I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine," he said.
Phelps, who had been the face of the Olympics when he participated, understood where Biles was coming from and felt like she was carrying the "weight of the world" on her shoulders.
“It’s a tough situation. ... I hope this is an eye-opening experience,” said Phelps.
Biles was one of the best athletes, if not the best one, at the 2016 Rio Olympics as she won 4 golds as an Olympic debutant. There were expectations to win another 4 at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which could have overburdened her and rightly so.
Phelps also shared how his own experience when the high expectations on him weighed heavy at a time he also found it hard to ask for help.
“We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and downs and emotional rollercoasters. The biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help when we go through those times. ... It was hard for me to ask for help,” the former swimmer added.
"Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression. "I would say '04 was probably the first depression spell I went through," said Phelps.
Abhinav Bindra, a gold medallist from the Beijing Olympics said he also tackled depression after his big win.
Mental health issues haven't been as rare as their disclosure in public has been. Hence, athletes like Biles speaking about it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Earlier this year, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka also pulled out of the French Open due to concerns about her mental health. This was following a controversy as she refused to attend press conferences during the tournament and the 23-year-old was threatened with a suspension. Many athletes and even sponsors supported the decision, however, there was criticism from some sections of fans.
Biles and Osaka are from a generation who don't really care about what the media or the fans talk about them. She prioritised mental health over a gold medal even at a prestigious event like the Olympics like Osaka pulled out of one of the grand slams in Tennis.
There is a naive perspective that the athletes who withdraw due to mental health issues are afraid of losing but these young athletes will make people understand about how those issues are of a serious concern. Issues which have to be given as much importance as the physical injuries are given.
And as Biles mentioned the athletes have to protect their mind as well as the body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants them to do. The world wants them to win medals but Biles, who knows she is struggling, decides to withdraw. Because thats what trendsetters do... they dont go by the narrative, they create a narrative!
Support from the organisers, the association and Michelle Obama
The official handle of the Olympics supported this audacious decision taken by the American gymnast.
Michelle Obama was proud of the decision as she addressed a tweet to Biles. "We are proud of you and we are rooting for you,” the former First Lady tweeted.
Obama has always been a fan of the American gymnast and congratulated her earlier this year. Biles became the first female gymnast to complete Yurchenko double pike off skill at a major competition. She achieved this unique feat at the 2021 U.S. Classic in May 2021.
Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, was glad that a topic like mental health is now being talked about. “Whether it’s our organization, the changes at (USA Gymnastics) or whether it’s because it’s a conversation that’s been happening in society and in the athlete community overall, it’s positive,” Hirshland said.
The sports associations, global icons and fans have supported Biles and it is a big step in creating awareness about mental health.
Due to lack of awareness regarding the subject, mental illness has been taboo. We hope that the stand was taken by these two young athletes, who were bold enough to talk about a serious difficulty, normalises an issue that has affected sportspersons over a long period.
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