The Olympics And Mental Health: When Simone Biles Chose To Prioritize Her Well-Being

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Fatima Araos

Thanks to Simone Biles, a spotlight has been cast on mental health issues experienced by pro athletes. For many years, all the world saw was the physical prowess of the 24-year-old G.O.A.T. gymnast. Nobody had a clue that a tough Olympic gold medalist like her could be struggling mentally, until she withdrew from several of her competitions during the 2020 Games in Tokyo, citing mental health concerns.

Biles’ decision drew mixed reactions from the world. Here, we focus on how her choice to put herself first has impacted her fellow athletes and Olympians.

Support From Chloe Kim And Mikaela Shiffrin

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Snowboarder Chloe Kim supported Biles’ decision. In an interview with Shape, she said, “I was really proud of Simone Biles, and Naomi Osaka as well, for prioritizing their mental health. I hope that people realize that as athletes and Olympians, we face a lot of pressure. It's important to slow down, take a step back, and validate your emotions. Respecting yourself is so important.”

Skier Mikaela Shiffrin was full of praise as well, telling People, “Having one of the most recognized and biggest voices in sports right now talk about this and show how real it is to [struggle], ... it makes it a little bit easier to talk about. It gives all of us athletes the ability to say, ‘Oh, you're not alone feeling that way. I'm not the only one who feels pressure.’”

Nathan Chen Gets Inspired, Nastia Liukin Is Grateful

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Figure skater Nathan Chen also threw in his support, saying that Biles’ choice “was extraordinarily inspirational and really just allowed all athletes to be like, ‘Hey, we are important as people, not just as athletes.’”

He added that the gymnast’s move gave athletes “a sense of peace knowing that, when the time comes, of course we're there to do our jobs and that's what we've dreamed about doing, but ultimately it comes down to our own well-being as people.”

Meanwhile, gymnast Nastia Liukin posted a heartfelt open letter on Instagram, expressing her gratitude to Biles for “creating a safer space for current and future athletes to unequivocally be themselves.”

‘She Made A Mistake’

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However, not all reactions from Biles’ fellow Olympians were supportive.

Freestyle wrestler Henry Cejudo, a gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, thought she should have been a bit tougher in dealing with pressure. “I think she really needs to check herself,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “I do believe she made a mistake…There’s two things that pressure could do. Pressure could either break or it could make diamonds. You choose what to do with it…There’s a reason you’re an Olympic champion.”

Sympathy From Fellow Gymnasts

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Meanwhile, Biles’ fellow gymnasts Jordyn Wieber, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes and Rachael Denhollander were all sympathetic.

“(Biles’) decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health—'a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian,” Moceanu tweeted, while Denhollander posted, “You all who are railing at Simone's choice will never know the incredible sacrifice and effort it took for her to HAVE a choice. Much respect.”

Wieber said, “Hopefully, we're shifting away from the culture of prioritizing medals and money and the success of the athletes over the health of the athlete.”

And Dawes summed it up well by saying, “At the end of the day, she is the one who has to live her life…[A]thletes need to be able to say no. If they feel that it's unhealthy for them, they need to be able to step away.”