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Simone Biles opens up about walking away from the Olympics and prioritizing her mental health

The Olympic champion reflected on her decision to sit out the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in an interview with The Cut.

Simone Biles opens up about walking away from the Olympics and prioritizing her mental health
Image Source: Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 4. TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 27. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

In an interview with The Cut, star gymnast Simone Biles shared an in-depth look at why she chose to prioritize her mental health and sit out the 2020 Summer Olympics. In fact, the seven-time Olympic medal winner claimed she should have quit far before the games had even begun in Tokyo. Now, she reveals, the stakes are much lower although her life is still quite busy. As she kills it at Athleta’s Gold Over America, a nationwide gymnastics tour, Biles has set an otherwise unimaginable precedent for athletes and regular old Joes alike—choosing yourself over your other commitments is not selfish. Indeed, it can be a revolutionary act.


"My perspective has never changed so quickly from wanting to be on a podium to wanting to be able to go home, by myself, without any crutches," she told Camonghne Felix of The Cut about withdrawing from the 2020 Olympics. "You know, there have been highs, there have been lows. Sometimes it’s like, yeah, I’m perfectly okay with it. Like, that’s how it works. That’s how it panned out. And then other times I’ll just start bawling in the house." At the time, Biles knew it was more than just a bad day.


The world record-breaking gymnast continued, "Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can’t see shit, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight. You’d be lost, wouldn’t you? That’s the only thing I can relate it to. I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up—lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?" Biles also discussed how she felt nervous before the games despite the amount of training she and her teammates had received.


"There was no crowd, no parents," she noted. "Leading up to it, I got more and more nervous. I didn’t feel as confident as I should have been with as much training as we had." According to her, the trouble really began after the qualifiers, when she began fumbling event after event. Biles shared, "I was not physically capable. Every avenue we tried, my body was like, 'Simone, chill. Sit down. We’re not doing it.' And I’ve never experienced that." The 24-year-old was experiencing what is known as the "twisties," which is when an athlete's mind and body lose connection and muscle memory fails to kick in. These can be incredibly dangerous. Biles explained, "It’s basically life or death. It’s a miracle I landed on my feet. If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed that vault, I went and told my coach: ‘I cannot continue.’"


It has been almost two months since the Olympian returned from Tokyo to her hometown, Houston. While she is aware she made the right call, she is also heartbroken on some days. "It’s like I jumped out of a moving train," she said. "Everybody asks, ‘If you could go back, would you?’ No. I wouldn’t change anything because everything happens for a reason. And I learned a lot about myself—courage, resilience, how to say no and speak up for yourself... As a Black woman, we just have to be greater. Because even when we break records and stuff, they almost dim it down, as if it’s just normal. This will probably be something I work through for 20 years. No matter how much I try to forget. It’s a work in progress." Biles is presently back in therapy and recently presented at the 2021 VMAs and walked the Met Gala red carpet. For now, if she has "anything more to give, she’ll let us know."


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