"After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition.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.
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.
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.”
Biles could still compete in next week's individual finals and will continue to be evaluated daily, according to the team.