Gymnast Simone Biles has revealed that she first felt ‘human’ by dropping out of multiple Olympic finals amid mental health issues.
The 24-year-old made the confession during a interview with her mother, Nellie Biles, in which she discussed her decision to withdraw from several Tokyo events – having entered the Games this year as the favorite to win almost every competition.
However, after completing just one event in the team finals – a vault she flubbed and nearly crashed into – Biles withdrew from the competition, explaining that she needed to “focus on her mental health” and then withdrew from it. the whole match. -round, uneven bars, jump and floor exercises.
Her decision sparked furious controversy online, with some praising her for prioritizing her mental health, while others accusing the two-time Olympian of “quitting” and “abandoning” her teammates.
Speaking: Gymnast Simone Biles has revealed that dropping out of several Olympic finals in Tokyo is ‘the first time she feels human’
Opening: The 24-year-old made the confession as she discussed the mental health issues that ruined her quest for Olympic gold in Tokyo in a new video for Athleta
But while Biles has faced criticism online, she says the reaction to her withdrawal from the Olympic Village has actually been much more positive than she expected, admitting she thought she would face “backlash and shame” over her decision. .
In fact, the gymnast says that by “retiring” from gymnastics, she first gave her the chance to publicize herself for something other than her athletic achievements — after years of garnering nothing but praise and recognition for her medals and athletic prowess. .
‘Over the years, because I’ve been so dominant, everyone [has supported] the gym and praised me for what I did in the gym and not really outside [of it]’ she told her mother during an interview for Athleta.
“Obviously, when I stepped back, I expected a lot of backlash and embarrassment. But it’s the opposite.
“And that’s the first time I felt human. Other than ‘Simone Biles’ I was Simone and people respected that.’
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, Biles was widely regarded as the greatest female gymnast of all time, with 19 world titles and five Olympic medals – while also performing some skills so tricky that no other woman has ever attempted them in competition. .
But the gymnast says there’s a dark side to her success on the competition floor — noting that many athletes’ struggles with mental health go unnoticed behind the scenes, as they are often only recognized or supported when it comes to their performance in the competition. their respective discipline.
She hopes her decision to speak out about her own mental health issues will raise awareness about the stress of dealing with the stressful situations elite athletes face in their daily lives.
Shock: Biles stunned the world when she withdrew from the team final in Tokyo after just one event – the vault, which she flubbed and nearly collapsed to the ground
Struggle: After the team final, Biles cited her mental health as the reason for her withdrawal, and later revealed that she struggled with the “twisties” that made her feel “lost in the air.”
Back in action: She returned to competition in time for the balance beam final, in which she took the bronze medal
“Nobody understands the platform we’re on,” she said, adding: “Not many people can relate to winning and being a top athlete and doing the things and breaking the barriers that we do.
“But a lot of people can relate to mental health and things of normal people … we are not seen as normal people walking around.”
Biles continued, “I know I’ve helped many people and athletes speak out about mental health and say no.”
In addition to the support she received from other athletes in Tokyo, Biles — who won four gold medals and one bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Games — said she also received support online, including from two A-list celebrities: Justin Bieber and Demi. Lovato.
“Justin Bieber reached out and messaged me, as did Demi Lovato,” she recalled.
After her shocking decision to withdraw from the team finals, Biles revealed to the world that she was struggling with a mental condition called the “twisties,” which essentially causes gymnasts to lose their spatial awareness and “get lost in the sky.”
While sharing a video of her trying to conquer herself in Tokyo, Biles described the feeling as “terrible,” hitting back at her critics and claiming she had no other choice in withdrawing from the competition.
She doubled down on this feeling during the conversation with her mother, explaining that she had made the decision to both protect herself – and make sure not to jeopardize her teammates’ chances of winning a medal in the team event. would put.
“I knew I couldn’t go out to fight, I knew I was going to get hurt,” she said, adding: “I definitely had the team in my best interest and that’s why I decided to pull out.
Helping Hand: Speaking about the ways she protects her mental health Biles, who is seen with boyfriend Jonathan Owens, said she relies on a close circle of friends and family
Fit and active: When it comes to her physical health, Biles, who just returned from vacation in Mexico, said she tries to balance regular workouts with healthy “fuel” for her body
“I didn’t want to potentially lose a medal to them because the girls were more than willing to go in and do their job, which they did.”
While the “twisties” aren’t always related to other mental health issues, Biles has previously hinted that her own struggles with the condition may have been fueled by the trauma of the abuse she suffered at the hands of pedophile Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. .
“Come to think of it, maybe in the back of my mind, probably, yes, because there are certain triggers that you don’t even know about. And I think [the abuse] could have [affected me]’ she told Hoda Kotb of the Today show earlier this month.
Speaking to mom Nellie, Biles admitted that she believes her mental health issues started before she arrived in Tokyo — though she didn’t pay attention to them until they started having an impact on her performance.
“I wouldn’t even say it started in Tokyo, I feel like it was probably a little bit deeper than that,” she explained.
“I think it was just a stressor that built up over time and it just… my mind and my body just said, ‘No.’
“Even I didn’t realize I was going through it until it just happened. It just sucks, you’ve been training for five years, it’s not going the way you wanted…’