Three-time Olympics gold medallist Aly Raisman has slammed USA Gymnastics and US Olympic Committee for the lack of mental health support given to athletes, following the surprise exit of Simone Biles from the women’s gymnastics team event.
"USA Gymnastics has been an absolute disaster for years and unfortunately not enough has changed for us to believe in a safer future, but I think this just really shows the lack of leadership [of] USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee," Raisman, who competed with Biles in 2016 Rio Olympics, told CNN.
Biles pulled out from the team competition on her opening vault after receiving a low mark on Tuesday. She cited concerns about her mental wellbeing and said athletes were “people at the end of the day.”
She, however, did not rule out a return to the competition starting with Thursday’s all-around event where she would defend her Olympic title.
“After the performance I did I just didn’t want to go on,” Biles had said after she won her sixth Olympic medal as a part of the squad that won silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee.
Her abrupt exit has also put the mental health of athletes under the spotlight, as she joins the likes of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka who pulled out from the French Open in May.
Raisman, however, indicated that the withdrawal of Biles from the game was also implying a bigger problem inside the organisations governing gymnastics in the US.
"Their best athlete is struggling... is there someone there to help her?" asked Raisman. "I don’t know. I’m not there, so I don’t know. But I think it’s an important question that we should be asking."
"Does Simone have the support that she needs?" she continued. "Do other athletes have the support that they need? Not only when they are in Tokyo but also when they come back home.”
Drawing from her own experience, Raisman added that they did not “had enough support” when they needed “access to mental health experts” to help them work through the stress. “That’s definitely something that needs to change and that needs to change for the athlete.”
Speaking at length about the pressure on the gymnasts at the Games, Raisman said: “In the finals, there are three gymnasts who go up and every single score counts. So there is no room for error and that acts as just a tremendous amount of pressure.”
Raisman added that though the athletes going in make gymnastics look easy but viewers often don’t realise how dangerous it is and that “even breathing at the wrong time or running a little bit too fast” can lead to serious injury.
“I cannot imagine how hard that was for her to pull out today and I am proud of her. And she knows her body better than anyone else and she knows her mind better than anyone else,” she said, extending her support to Biles.
Biles received an outpouring of support from Olympians and celebrities following her decision to withdraw from the women’s team final.
In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Gratitude and support are what [Simone Biles] deserves. Still the GOAT [greatest of all time] and we are all just lucky to be able to see her in action."
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