Simone Biles has credited Naomi Osaka for her decision to pull out from the gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, saying the tennis star inspired her to “focus on my mental health.”
Why this matters: Biles’ exit has raised awareness on how mental health is equally important to physical health, especially among athletes in high-stress environments such as the Games. Last month, Osaka dropped out of the French Open to give herself a break from social anxiety and “long bouts of depression.”
- USA Gymnastics announced early on Tuesday that Biles had withdrawn from the final “due to a medical issue.” In a press conference after the team won silver, the 24-year-old explained that she had to prioritize her mental health.
- “Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out,” Biles told reporters, according to USA Today. “I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.”
- The two-time Olympian said Osaka inspired her to speak about her own issues. “I say put mental health first because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your score and you’re not gonna succeed as much as you want to,” she said, according to People.
- Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron but made an early exit Tuesday, also discussed the toll of performing in the event. “I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this. I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year, (it) was a bit much. I think I’m glad with how I played, with taking that break that I had,” she told reporters.
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What people are saying: Biles’ decision has drawn both support and criticism online. However, there is more of the former for the decorated gymnast, particularly from fellow athletes and celebrities.
- Jordan Chiles, who replaced Biles, expressed support for her teammate. “Those were definitely some big shoes that I had to fill and I’m very happy that I was able to do that. Yes, she [Biles] is the GOAT (greatest of all time). I was able to show the world that not only can you fill amazing people’s shoes but we also did this together as well,” she said, according to NBC.
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated: “Gratitude and support are what @Simone_Biles deserves. Still the GOAT and we are all just lucky to be able to see her in action.”
- “I think the biggest message is no matter how successful, how well prepared you are, we all have our bad days,” Dr. Anat Geva, a psychiatrist with HealthONE Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, told FOX31. “She is showing us that it’s not only okay, it’s really necessary to stand up for yourself.”
- Retired U.S. gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman wished Biles well, according to Reuters: “I’m just completely devastated and obviously so worried and just hoping Simone’s OK. I’m also thinking about the mental impact this has to have on Simone. It’s just so much pressure and I’ve been watching how much pressure has been on her the months leading up to the Games and it’s just devastating. I feel horrible.”
- Jayson Tatum defended Biles against radio host Charlie Kirk, who reportedly called the gymnast a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to the country.” The Boston Celtics star tweeted: “Is it that hard to be supportive and empathetic to what others are going through? This is someone’s daughter and her health you’re referring to. Wonder if he has kids and how he would feel as a parent [with] someone talking about his kids this way. Cause I’d be DAMNED. Simone is a hero!”
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The latest: USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday that Biles has also withdrawn from the individual all-around competition to focus on her mental health. The team said she will continue to be evaluated daily to assess whether or not she can participate in next week’s individual event finals.
- “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many,” the team said in a statement.
- Jade Carey, who had the ninth-highest score in the qualifications, will replace Biles in the all-around. Biles can still compete in other individual events, however, having qualified for individual finals in vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise, CNN noted.
Featured Image Screenshots via beIN SPORTS Asia (left, right)