In an Olympic shocker, medal-favorite Simone Biles has withdrawn from Olympic competition just as the U.S. Women’s team is set to appear in the team finals.
Biles became the first female gymnast to ever earn four gold medals in Olympic competition during the 2016 games in Rio. The most famous gymnast in the world has long been thought an inevitable team and individual champion in Tokyo, but those hopes were dashed when Biles announced her withdrawal from events on Tuesday. In the early hours, confusion surrounded the announcement. After what she felt was a subpar vault performance, Biles left the arena with a trainer, returning to begin the uneven bars. In a stunning turn of events before she was set to compete she re-donned her warm-up suit and once again left. Some posited she’d suffered an injury. Biles later admitted that she did withdraw because of a health issue. It was her mental state she was most concerned about. She said she was beginning to doubt herself and couldn’t quite get past it.
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 just don’t trust myself as much as I used to,” Biles said. “After the performance that I did, I didn’t want to go into the other events so I thought I would take a step back.”
“Once I came out here, I was like, no the mental is not there,” she said. “I had to let the girls do it.”
The world champion gymnast says she was inspired by tennis star Naomi Osaka, how now infamously retreated from world-class competition to focus on her mental health, blasting the media for putting too much pressure on young athletes.
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. She added that she had “never felt like this before.”
Biles’ absence was felt by her teammates, who – after being favored for gold – settled for a silver medal just behind the Russian team. She was present on the sidelines to cheer on her crew, saying she was proud of their performance.
“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 has received criticism for the move and some say the price of being a professional athlete is being able to withstand some of the intense pressure that comes when competing at a world class level. While Osaka seems to be most concerned with pressure from the media, Biles has had some genuinely horrific experiences as a U.S. gymnast. She was identified as one of the victims of Dr. Larry Nassar, the U.S. National Women’s Gymnastics team physician who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of his gymnast patients after nearly thirty years in the position.
Other gymnasts like Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney made the painful decision to discuss their abuse with the public and at trial, but Biles had previously declined to do so, only confirming that she was indeed another victim. That is, until recently. In early July, Biles finally spoke out about her abuse in detail. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that she felt “off” at Olympic competition just a couple of weeks later.
Biles has said she is hoping to return to defend her Women’s All-Round title in Thursday’s competition in Tokyo.
One of the most remarkable mixed zone press conferences I’ve known. In which Simone Biles described pulling out of tonight’s team event because she had to put her mental health first. Says she was inspired by Naomi Osaka among others #Olympics #ArtisticGymnastics pic.twitter.com/p3Rli5S7J0
— Ian Herbert (@ianherbs) July 27, 2021