Written by Will Hekman
There have been mixed reactions to Simone Biles’ departure from the U.S Olympic gymnastics team. Many are praising her for showing the difficulty many have with mental health while others have criticized her for abandoning her team on the biggest stage in the biggest moment. Biles left after what she described as “twisties” which is a mental block that disrupts physical performances and can cause disorientation and loss of body control. Biles left her team after a poor performance on the vault on Tuesday. The United States would win silver, beaten by the Russian Olympic Committee (Russian athletes competing while not representing Russia as a nation since Russia is banned from international competition due to a doping scandal).
The United States has dominated in gymnastics, winning seven of twelve gold medals between London 2012 and Rio 2016. Biles has four gold medals and won gold at the World Championships nineteen times. Biles is certainly no stranger to the big stage and is one of the most celebrated American athletes so her decision to withdraw from the team came as a shock to almost everyone. Her choice to withdraw has sparked a debate as to whether athletes should withdraw from games for mental health.
Many have praised Biles for her decision as a way of ending the stigma surrounding mental health and athletes. People such as Britney Griner and Former First Lady Michele Obama have openly supported Biles’ decision. Others such as Texas Deputy AG Aaron Reitz criticized her calling Biles a “national embarrassment”. Reitz was criticized for this take and the Attorney General’s Office apologized for his comments.
All people go through mental health struggles, and athletes are certainly no exception. Many are under a tremendous amount of pressure, particularly in a sport in which the expectation is to not only win but to dominate your competition. An athlete of such stature as Biles has been in this position multiple times. She is considered by many as the best gymnast of all time, she even calls herself the G.O.A.T so she is certainly a confident person and confident in her athletic ability. Dick Fosbury famously said that sports are, “90 percent mental and 10 percent physical” and it is okay for Biles to admit that her head was not in the right place. Unfortunately, she abandoned her team in the worst position, and rather than fight through it and at least try to persevere, she quit, and on the biggest stage in the world. Those praising her and encouraging others to follow suit are also in the wrong, as it sets an extremely bad precedent for athletes. Pushing past the mental barriers is one of the biggest challenges in sports, and the ability to overcome those barriers is how athletes are remembered.