Simone Biles is putting her mental health first. In a move that no one saw coming, the reigning Olympic champion withdrew from the Gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics. Biles later announced that her absence was linked to her mental health.
"Physically, I feel good, I'm in shape,” said Biles. "Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn't an easy feat, so we're just trying to take it one day at a time and we'll see."
Following the news, many local gymnasts were shocked and surprised to hear that she wouldn't be competing, including Francesca Gionfriddo, a competitive gymnast.
"I was a little concerned because she, being a big gymnast like this could be career-ending or this could not be an issue at all," said Gionfriddo. "We definitely need her on our team, she's our biggest competitor, best gymnast in the world and all-time."
The pressure that some gymnasts feel before a competition is familiar for Beth Farragher who has a daughter competing in gymnastics.
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"Her pressure is sort of within, she wants to do her absolute best and to do well for her gym, her coaches and herself," said Farragher.
Following the announcement that Biles would sit out the Olympic team final, some Connecticut gymnastic coaches believe Biles made the right move.
"Sometimes we have mental blocks but in the sport of gymnastics, the mental block can cause you to injure yourself," said Byron Know, who coaches at Southern Connecticut State University. "Her intent was to help the team, it wasn't to let the team down and being out there and not being your best is detrimental and it really takes a champion attitude in order to make that call."
But what may be missing in Biles' case is the crowd, which can be a motivating factor, according to mental health experts.
"Many athletes may rely on their support group in past Olympics and they don't really have the opportunity for that to happen in this year's Olympics," said Dr. Peter Lucchio, a clinical psychologist at Hartford Healthcare.
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Luccio is all in on athletic role models like Biles stepping up and showing the next generation that it's perfectly fine to regroup and ensure your mental health is just up to par as your physical health.
"The mental side of it is so important as well because what they go through in terms of their day-to-day life and training and the sacrifices they make can take an emotional toll on you," said Luccio. "Hopefully, this kind of step-by-step process of destigmatizing being honest about and talking about mental health as an athlete continues."