Simone Biles: American Hero without Bringing Home Gold



Exiting the floor before her official withdrawal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles told her coach, “I just don’t trust myself.

When it came time for Biles to show out on the vault–typically her best event– she got lost in the air. Many fans believed that Biles, with 30 Olympic and world championship medals to her name, was sure to bring home the gold. 

Instead, Simone Biles challenged the prevalent stigma on mental health in sports when she withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics gymnastics team finals, despite her lack of physical injury.

Losing awareness while in the air is no small risk. The term “twisties” describes the phenomenon in which the body seemingly disconnects from the mind while in the air, putting the gymnast at risk of serious injury. Biles was no stranger to the “twisties” in her many practices leading up to the competition, as well as in her Olympic vault performance.

After the gymnastics team final, Biles revealed that part of her mental health struggle was rooted in the pressure to succeed as one of the “faces” of the USA in the Olympics, along with the difficulty of the pandemic and the lack of fans and family in Tokyo this year. 

Having mastered the world’s most difficult gymnastic skills, Biles states that to accomplish the twists and flips safely, “You have to be there 100 percent or 120 percent or you’re going to hurt yourself.

Many critics such as Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist and radio talk show host, voiced their opinions on Biles. Kirk called Biles, “a shame to the country” as well as stating, “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.”

On the other hand, fellow Olympians such as Katie Ledecky have expressed their support for Biles. “It’s actions like hers that hopefully help shape our society’s conversation around health, mental health, physical health,” praised Ledecky. “The two, they’re very connected.”

One supporter on Twitter tweeted, “Today, nervously, I backed out of a creative obligation I knew deep down I didn’t have the emotional/mental bandwidth for. And you know what? I was met with nothing but kindness and support. Thanks for inspiring me @Simone_Biles,” to which Biles replied with, “Proud of you.”

In the gymnastics world, where athletes such as Biles are often encouraged to push past pain and fear to succeed, Biles’ withdrawal sets an example to all athletes and supporters to set boundaries and emphasizes the importance of mental well-being over the lure of medals.

As one of the first world-renowned athletes to publicly put mental health above competition, Biles forced the sports world to acknowledge and reflect on the importance of mental health, thereby proving to be a true American hero.