Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Simone Biles is still a winner

Picture of Simone Biles wearing a mask
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Simone Biles' leadership on the mat has never been questioned. After her shocking withdrawal from Tuesday's team final, she proved just as capable a leader off of it.

What happened: During the first rotation, Biles performed an uncharacteristically bad vault, appearing to lose herself in midair.

  • Within minutes, she pulled herself from the competition, later explaining that she wasn't in the right headspace and felt she'd be a liability to the team.
  • "I had no idea where I was in the air," Biles said. “I could have hurt myself." The Washington Post's Emily Giambavalo explains a well-known term in the gymnastics world for that feeling — "the twisties" — and why it can be so dangerous.
  • Her teammates still put together a brilliant, silver-medal performance. The Russians won gold.

What they're saying: "At the end of the day, I have to do what's right for me and focus on my mental health," Biles told reporters.

  • "I'm not going to lose a medal for this country and for these girls ... They worked too hard. ... It's not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes who can step up."
  • Biles supported her teammates from the sidelines, and afterward, they returned the favor: "This medal is definitely for [Simone]," said Jordan Chiles. "If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be here."
  • "We have a fundamental misconception of what it means to be tough," Olympic performance coach Steve Magness told NYT. "It's not gritting our teeth through everything; it's having the space to make the right choice despite pressure, stress and fatigue."

The backdrop: This didn't come out of nowhere. The day before her withdrawal, Biles wrote on Instagram that she feels "the weight of the world on [her] shoulders at times."

  • She also said in the docuseries, "Simone vs Herself," that she was "nervous she might freak out" without her parents present because they've never missed a competition of hers.
  • Aly Raisman, who won team gold in 2012 and 2016, told Today: "The amount of pressure that everyone has been putting on her is just, it's too much."

The big picture: Biles, 24, is nearing the end of a historic gymnastics career. But by becoming the latest high-profile athlete to speak openly about mental health, her next chapter could be even more meaningful.

  • When Michael Phelps opened up about his mental health struggles, he became a role model for those fighting the same demons.
  • Now, two of the greatest and most famous Olympians in history will share that mantle, serving as constant reminders that even superhuman athletes are still just people.

What's next: Biles has withdrawn from Thursday's individual all-around competition, with Jade Carey set to take her place. It's unclear if she will compete in the four individual events.

  • All-around: Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey (Thursday)
  • Vault: Biles and Carey (Sunday)
  • Uneven bars: Biles and Lee (Sunday)
  • Floor: Biles and Carey (Monday)
  • Beam: Biles and Lee (Tuesday)
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