Simone Biles pulls out of Olympics all-around gymnastics final to focus on mental health
Simone Biles has withdrawn from the women’s all-around gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday after a further medical evaluation determined that she is not yet ready to compete. The news followed her dramatic decision to stop competing in the women’s team event on Tuesday after only one rotation on the vault due to mental health issues.
However, a statement from US gymnastics left open the possibility that Biles, who could still compete in four more finals, may return for the individual events at the Games next week.
“After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition,” it stated. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her wellbeing. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”
Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’s place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals.
The organisation said Biles will be evaluated before deciding if she will participate in next week’s individual events.
Meanwhile Biles’s decision has been widely praised by America’s sporting superstars, with Michael Phelps among those insisting that it would “blow the doors open” over athlete mental health.
Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 23 gold medals, said that seeing Biles leave the arena “broke my heart” but said her actions would make waves far beyond this year’s Olympic Games.
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do,” he added. “I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board, and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine.
“We carry a lot of weight on our shoulders, and it’s challenging especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations being thrown on top of us.”
Speaking to NBC, Phelps also recalled his own battles with mental health, saying that he had found it hard to ask for support when he needed it.
“I can say personally, it was something that was very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help. But it’s so important, especially to teach kids at a young age to take control of their physical and mental health. We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect.”
Meanwhile, speaking after winning her sixth Olympic gold medal in the women’s 1500m, the swimmer Katie Ledecky spoke of the pressure Biles had been under.
“Everyone around the world is watching, certainly Simone has so many eyes on her,” she said. “The cameras follow you around, I experience that on days like today. You can feel like a lot of people are watching you and every move you make is being watched and judged.”
“I’ve got to know Simone over the years and we’re in touch every now and then,” she added. “I hope she knows that I really support her and hope she does really well the rest of this week.”
The American sprinter and long jumper Tianna Bartoletta, who won three golds across the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, said that Biles’ actions would resonate far beyond sport.
“There are people who witnessed Simone walk away from this who are stuck knee deep in some shit right now,” she wrote. “They watched the greatest gymnast of all time walk off the biggest stage and I guarantee you that for the first time that same someone somewhere is thinking …
“If she can walk away from that – with all that on the line for her, with the entire country and maybe even the world coming in hot with their hot takes – maybe, just maybe I can take this step to walk too. There’s a lot of power in maybe. And hope is one helluva drug.”
Biles, who said she decided to quit to protect her “mind and body” rather than just do what the world wanted her to do, was also praised for by the International Olympic Committee.
“What we can all say, regardless of what happened, we have huge respect and support for her,” the IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Adams added that the IOC had provided psychologists in the Athlete Village as well as a helpline for athletes in 70 languages. “Mental health is an incredibly important issue. Are we doing enough? I hope so, I think so. But like everyone else in the world we can do more on this issue.”