Why we should all listen very carefully to Simone Biles


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Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

19.53 27 Jul 2021


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As Simone Biles and the sporting world come to digest why she pulled out of the Team USA gymnastics event, journalist Tara Sullivan believes we need to pay particular attention to her words.

Biles, one of the foremost athletes of her generation, spoke extensively after her withdrawal from the event, having scored a personally-low score of 13.766 on the vault.

"After the performance I did, I just didn't want to go on," Biles told the media.

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"I have to focus on my mental health. I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now.

"We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.

"I don't trust myself as much anymore. Maybe it's getting older. There were a couple of days when everybody tweets you and you feel the weight of the world.

"We're not just athletes. We're people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to step back.

"I didn't want to go out and do something stupid and get hurt. ​I feel like a lot of athletes speaking up has really helped.

"It's so big, it's the Olympic Games. At the end of the day we don't want to be carried out of there on a stretcher."

Simone Biles

With the starkness of the words and the stature of the speaker, Sullivan believes it is a 'whiplash' moment for US sport.

"It has been such a marquee sport for the Summer Olympics, the US hadn't lost a team competition in over a decade. What we saw this morning has been one of those 'whiplash' moments where people are talking about what happened.

"The answer from Biles herself is that she mentally felt unprepared and not to do it; they didn't have a great prelim round and finished behind the athletes from Russia. In her first vault this morning, she lost her place in mid-air, scored very low and said later that mentally she wasn't there.

"In gymnastics, it's a sport where you are throwing your body into the air and at these apparatus; the risk of injury is enormous and I think she recognised that."

'Her comments are shocking'

Sullivan believes that once an athlete is not in the right psychological frame to compete, it manifests in different ways - ways that are physically dangerous for gymnasts.

"We see it in American baseball where you just can no longer throw the ball, you just cannot move the ball forward. Even in that there is not the risk of injury that you have in gymnastics.

"There's a much bigger issue at play, that a mental health injury - if you will - being just as debilitating as a physical injury would have been."

"When I watched it and saw her break form in mid-air like that, the fact that she still landed on her feet speaks to her incredible athleticism. For her, she probably realised that she's lucky she didn't land flat on her back or neck, the things that are associated with catastrophic injury in gymnastics. I imagine that moment set her back even more."

Sulivan believes the comments represent a rare moment for Olympic sport.

"The comments are shocking, I don't know what words to use because I think we have to stop and take notice of what it is that she's saying.

"It is one of those rare instances where an athlete at her level - considered the best-ever in her sport who has pushed it to new heights with all her tricks - to say that out loud that she lost her confidence [...] I think it's one of those instances where we just need to stop and talk about it, not a simple 'oh my god, I can't believe she walked out on her team.'"

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