Simone Biles, the US gymnast who withdrew from Tokyo 2020 Olympic events to prioritize her mental health, has thanked fans for their “love and support” amid an outpouring of praise and well wishes from people around the world.
The 24-year-old, who is one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, withdrew from Thursday’s individual all-around competition yesterday after stepping away from a dramatic team competition earlier in the week. She cited mental heath concerns and the need to protect “her body and mind.”
In a tweet published Wednesday, Biles addressed the support she has since received from fans and said it had shown her she was “more” than her sporting accomplishments.
“The outpouring love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” Biles said.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that it supported her decision “wholeheartedly” and applauded her “bravery.”
“Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many,” USA Gymnastics said.
Biles, who had been a favorite to win gold in the final, has won every individual all-around competition that she has entered since 2013 and won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But on Tuesday, while attempting an advanced vault that involves a back handspring with two-and-a-half twists in the air before landing, Biles faltered and left the field of play close to tears.
The weight of the world on her shoulders
Writing on Instagram earlier in the week she said she felt “the weight of the world on [her] shoulders at times.”
“I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha!” she wrote in the post.
Her honesty about the pressure of competition and mental health has been supported by fellow athletes, as well as sponsors including Visa, American Airlines and Uber Eats.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist and former teammate Aly Raisman is among those to voice their support for Biles.
She criticized USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee for a lack of leadership in supporting athletes and said athletes were “people at the end of the day.”
“USA Gymnastics has been an absolute disaster for years and unfortunately not enough has changed for us to believe in a safer future, but I think this just really shows the lack of leadership [of] USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday.
“Does Simone have the support that she needs?” continued Raisman. “Do other athletes have the support that they need?”
She added: “It’s a tremendous amount of pressure… I’m completely devastated and I support her so much.”
Paula Radcliffe, the former team GB runner who was labeled a “quitter” when she was forced to withdrawn from the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon a few miles before the finish line due to injury, spoke of her own experience in an interview with CNN Wednesday.
“Neither one of us quit. Our bodies just weren’t able to do it,” Radcliffe said.
“Very few people actually understand the relationship between your mind and your body … particularly in something that’s really physically, or mentally — or both — taxing, you really need to know when to push through it and when to listen to your body, and it’s what has made her the great champion that she is,” she added.
“I would argue that she’s actually even stronger mentally for being able to make that call now,” Radcliffe said of Biles.
Sports stars are becoming more open about the pressures they face.
In May, four-time major tennis champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing mental health reasons.
The 23-year-old revealed she had suffered with anxiety and depression.
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she said in a statement at the time.
“Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.”