Photo credit: usagym.org
Biles Spotlights Mental Health, US Takes Silver in Team Artistic
Even at the biggest competition, with all the world’s most talented athletes on hand, there are some things more important than winning. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles reminded everyone of that when she unexpectedly removed herself from competition at the Tokyo Summer Olympics to protect her mental and physical well-being.
As early as the qualifying round it seemed something was off, although there was no need to sound the alarm. An unusually error-filled day for the United States allowed the Russian Olympic Committee, not the United States, to earn the top spot. But the U.S. appeared in good standing. Biles led qualifiers in the all-around and was the sole gymnast to qualify in each of the individual exercises. The U.S. remained the favorites to win, and they would receive a clean slate come finals.
Unfortunately, the first rotation of finals quickly revealed something more serious was going on. Biles bailed out of her vault, attempting only a Yurchenko 1.5 that she struggled to land. Afterward, she left the competition accompanied by the team trainer. When she returned, it was announced she would not return to the competition.
Although Biles was no longer competing, her leadership remained as strong as ever and she immediately reassured her teammates. “I’m sorry. I love you guys. But you’re going to be just fine,” Biles told her teammates. “You guys have trained your whole life for them.” Throughout the competition, she could be heard cheering on her teammates in the spectator-free arena.
A strong team effort on the bars maintained the United States’ hold on second place. Jordan Chiles, who otherwise wouldn’t have performed, delivered a 14.166, while Suni Lee’s 15.400 was the highest score of any competitor yet. Trailing by almost 2.5 points heading into the third rotation, the Americans quickly made up ground after two ROC athletes fell on the beam. Somehow, with their best athlete watching from the sidelines, the U.S. had brought itself within .800 points heading into the floor exercise.
Grace McCallum brought the U.S. within .666 points with a 13.500 on the floor, but in the end the talented ROC squad locked up gold after Viktoria Listunova’s routine earned a 14.166. In the face of the added adversity, courageous performances by Jordan Chiles, Suni Lee, and Grace McCallum earned the U.S. a silver medal —a truly incredible feat. Behind them, Great Britain took home bronze, its first time on the podium in nearly a century.
Later in the week, Biles revealed in an Instagram post that she had the “twisties” — a loss of spatial awareness and a disconnect between the mind and body. Rather than risk injury, she did what was best for herself, as well as her teammates. “I’m not going to lose a medal for this country and for these girls. They worked too hard...it’s not worth it, especially when you have amazing athletes who can step up.”
Biles also spoke to the intense pressure she felt heading into the games, explaining she was carrying the “weight of the world” on her shoulders. “I say put mental health first because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” She received an outpouring of support and empathy from the sporting community, with everyone from former teammates Laurie Hernandez and Aly Raisman, to 23-time gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps.
After some deliberation, Biles ultimately withdrew from the All-Around competition as well. It is still uncertain whether she will compete in the individual event competition. Biles says she is taking it one day at a time - and that, among other things, is something we can all learn from the GOAT.