Simone Biles’ Withdrawal Means More

Once again the decision of a female athlete is scrutinised in the media, following Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Already regarded as the greatest gymnast ever, with a honours list of a combined 30 medals from the World Championships and the Olympics, Biles decided to pull out of Tuesday’s women’s team final and Thursday’s women’s all-round competition. The decision was made due to the gymnast’s recent struggles with her mental health.

The US star uncharacteristically made a mistake in her opening vault attempt which prompted an exit from the arena and subsequently seek advice from a team medic. Such is the standard at the Olympics, a benchmark raised by Biles, means there is an associated detriment when gymnasts take to the beams or the rings.

Struggling with mental health can mean myriad things, including self-doubt – something which elite level athletes can’t afford to harbour. If Simone Biles doubts her ability to perform on the biggest stage then it could result in serious injury, such as a broken neck.

Elevating to greatest in the world, let alone all time, demands an incredible mindset fortified by self belief and desire. The prospect of losing eats away at the best, especially when being so used to being perched on top of the podium with a gold medal sitting justly on the neck. There are a plethora of examples as to why this decision must have been so difficult to make.

Unfortunately there will always be scrutiny, no matter what. Granted, there is only a small minority who have opposed the decision; some using words like ‘sociopath’ and ‘selfish’, but these seem to be from those of Piers Morgan’s ilk.

The mere suggestion that Biles is anything other than strong, powerful and inspirational is arbitrary fabrication. It’s extremely inspiring and reassuring to know that a such a famous figure and an individual who displays such immense talent and dedication can experience feelings and emotions which many of us have experienced. But it’s imperative that the gymnast star is able to receive the support she needs, which is undoubtedly more trying when in the public eye.

It’s almost two months since we wrote about Naomi Osaka and her decision to withdraw from the Tennis French Open and we support Simone Biles, and any other athlete, who feels they must make a similar decision. May this be the start of a shift in the consideration of the mental health of athletes.