Simone Biles

Simone Biles' Withdrawal From Olympic Events Sends Message to Young Athletes

USA's Simone Biles competes in the artistic gymnastics balance beam event of the women's qualification during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 25, 2021.
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American gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from the team final on Tuesday, will not compete in the women’s individual all-around final on Thursday, USA Gymnastics announced.

"After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. 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," USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday.

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"We just see an athlete and presume we know everything about them, but there's so much more going on for all of these people. They live multidimensional, multifaceted lives like we all do," says sports psychologist Dr. Mark Aoyagi. After withdrawing from events at the Tokyo Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles is reminding us we can be physically healthy and have mental health needs to attend to.

That’s also how Mikayla Girelli feels. “I have always admired her, but I have even more admiration for her now for speaking up and putting her mental health first and putting her teammates before her own desire for gold. I think that’s really impressive,” said Girelli.

Girelli was a competitive gymnast at Glastonbury High School. She is now pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Hartford. She knows firsthand how pressure can affect your performance.

“I think her situation is not a normal situation. That much pressure on anyone could take a toll. And I think it’s just important that we don’t label or diagnose her,” said Girelli.

After gymnast Simone Biles decided to prioritize her mental health and exit her team final, an International Olympic Committee spokesman said that “we can do more” when it comes to athletes’ mental health.

Doctor Jeffrey Deitz, a medical psychiatrist and assistant professor at Quinnipiac University, said elite athletes are an amazing group because they have to learn to live with the appropriate level of stress to optimize their performance and basically get in the right zone.

He said he and his colleagues commend Biles for speaking up.

“She’s saying 'look, my head is not in the right place therefore if I try and do my sport, I know myself well enough to know that my performance will be compromised' and when you see the stuff she’s trying to do, you realize how risky it could be for someone to try to do and do vaults and tumbles when they’re not in the right place. They could really injure themselves very badly,” said Deitz.

Biles’ withdraw also sends a message to other younger athletes, Girelli said. “It’s not always about winning, it’s about enjoying what you’re doing and taking care of yourself in the process, physically & mentally.”

Simone Biles fields questions from the media after she stopped competing before the end of the women’s team gymnastics final during the Tokyo Olympics.

Biles could still compete in next week's individual finals and will continue to be evaluated daily, according to the team.

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