On July 28th, 2021, Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics women’s individual all-around competition in gymnastics to focus on her mental wellbeing, an action that did great deals to destigmatize mental health care, especially in sports.
The Stress and Pressure
Biles faced lots of pressure and stress going into the Olympic games. Owning the title of best gymnast in the world, and having the expectations of millions would put major stress and pressure on anyone. The stress and pressure combined, and she found it difficult to compete. She reported feeling like she couldn’t safely compete, and so chose to withdraw. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport, with very little room for errors. Even small errors can cost gymnasts a lot, and competing with inadequate mental health could lead to many small errors. When it comes to a sport like gymnastics, its better safe than sorry, because competing while in the wrong headspace can lead to a life-threatening injury. Biles felt that she wasn’t mentally ready to compete, so she listened to her body and put herself first. In addition, she also didn’t want to hold the team back with her possible mistakes. Her decision may’ve saved her from career-ruining injuries.
Fighting the Stigma
By withdrawing from competition and putting her mental and physical health first, Simone Biles fought the stigma against speaking about mental health, especially in the sports industry. She sent the message that mental health shouldn’t be sacrificed for other things, even Olympic medals. Her actions displayed the importance of mental wellbeing, and that everyone, even world class athletes, can struggle with it sometimes. By withdrawing form the Olympic competition, she showed us that its ok, and actually important, to put mental health first. Her actions may inspire future generations of athletes to put themselves first, fighting the stigma against the discussion of mental health.
Adjusting to Succeed
Although she withdrew from the all-round competition, Biles participated in the balance beam final event, winning a bronze medal. Even this victory, though, didn’t come without addressing her mental health. Biles didn’t feel comfortable performing her regular routine, so she changed it, downgrading her dismount to make it less mentally taxing. She took out the twisting component, and went with a double-pike dismount. The downgraded dismount, she claims, is one that she hadn’t done since she was 12 or 13 years old. Regardless, Biles showed us that sometimes, knowing your mental and physical limits and adapting to them can produce great outcomes.