Simone Biles of Team USA says it “wasn’t easy” to opt out of competitions and “give up” on her dreams of competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics to focus on her mental health. The star gymnast has also stated that she is ‘open’ to competing again in the 2024 Olympics.
Biles made the comments during an appearance Wednesday on NBC’s Today.
“It was hard, working five years for a dream and just having to give it up,” Biles said of her hiatus from Olympic competition. It was not easy at all.”
The four-time Olympic gold medalist performed her first vault rotation June 27 as part of the all-around team final. She then withdrew from that event, and four additional competitions, citing her mental and emotional well-being.
She returned to competition Tuesday and won a bronze medal on the balance beam. Biles told reporters Tuesday that she met twice with a Team USA sports psychologist, was evaluated each day of the Games and was “cleared” the night before the beam final.
Biles, widely regarded as the best gymnast in history, said she could not perform in the events she missed because it would have “jeopardized [my] health and safety.”
Biles dealt with the twisties, a gymnastics term that refers to athletes getting lost in the air during routines and not knowing if they will land on their feet, head or elsewhere. The mental block can lead to serious injuries.
She also spoke about the pressure to perform in the 2020 Summer Games before and throughout the competition. Biles told reporters Tuesday that her aunt had died a few days into competitions at the Games.
She said her lowest point emotionally was when she realized she would “only be remembered for [her] medals.” She then reflected and came to a different conclusion.
“I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I’m more than my medals and gymnastics; I’m a human being and I’ve done some courageous things outside of this sport, too, and I’m not a quitter,'” Biles told Today.
“And it took all of that realising to see that because I don’t think I would have seen it that way if this situation hadn’t happened.”
In addition to her bronze medal, Biles took home a silver medal from the team competition. The two medals brought her career total to seven, tying her for the most in Team USA gymnastics history with Shannon Miller.
“It feels heavy,” Biles told Today, when asked about pressure. “It’s like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and I’m very small, so I feel like at times it’s very overwhelming.
“But whenever you get so overwhelmed and you have triggers, it’s like, I have to focus on my mental wellbeing and that’s what I did.”
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 24-year-old won four gold medals and one bronze.
When she returns home, Biles says she has “a lot of things [she] needs to work on internally and mentally” to feel like she “had success” in Tokyo.
She is “keeping the door open” for a bid to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Nellie Biles, her mother, tweeted her thoughts on her daughter’s performance at the Olympics on Tuesday.
Nellie Biles tweeted, “Proud to call you my daughter.” “This morning, I saw the Simone we know, never giving up, a caring human being advocating for her safety and health, and not afraid to say it’s OK to not be OK.”
“[She is] a person who believes in her teammates a person who trusts the process.”
Biles is scheduled to travel to 35 U.S. cities with fellow gymnasts for a series of exhibitions called the Gold Over America Tour from September through early November.
From left to right, China’s silver medalist Xijing Tang, China’s gold medalist Chenchen Guan and the United States’ bronze medalist Simone Biles pose during the awards ceremony for the balance beam individual apparatus final on August 3. Photo by Richard Ellis