Biles, 24, pulled out a number of events, citing the “twisties”, a phenomenon experienced by some gymnasts where the brain mentally blocks them from performing dangerous stunts.
Biles withdrew from all events, apart from the balance beam, where she won bronze. Inspiration for her decision came from tennis player Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open and opted not to compete at Wimbledon, she said.
USA Gymnastics endorsed the decision, and said in a statement: “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being.”
However, despite the explanation and public support, Biles faced wave of criticism. Conservative pundit Charlie Kirk called her “weak” in a video, while broadcaster and journalist Piers Morgan called it a “selfish decision” in a column for the Mail Online. Aaron Reitz, the deputy attorney general of Biles’ home state of Texas, labelled her a “national embarrassment” in a now-deleted tweet.
However, Biles shared a Instagram post of her many medals, writing in the caption: “The word quitter is not in my vocabulary. For some of you that may be how you define me but I can’t hear you over my seven Olympic gold medals,” before acknowledging that she is the most-decorated US gymnast of all time. In total, she has 32 medals from the Olympics and World Championships; seven from the Olympic and 25 from Worlds.
The post has racked up over 850,000 likes and thousands of positive comments. High profile commentators included the actor Viola Davis, supermodel Naomi Campbell and Barbie, the iconic brand of dolls.
Last week, Biles elaborated on her Tokyo decisions in a Q&A with her mother. In the video, Biles expressed feeling a lack of understanding for athlete’s and their mental health due to appearing indestructible.
“I knew I couldn't go out there and compete, I knew I was going to get hurt,” she told her mum, Nellie Biles. “I definitely had the team in my best interests and that's why I decided to pull out.”
Her teammate Sunisa Lee, 18, took home gold for the all-around event, becoming the first Hmong-American to win an Olympic gold medal after becoming the first Hmong-American Olympian. In addition to the gold, she took home a silver and a bronze medal.
Biles has spoken out on a number of occasions about her mental health struggles, such as the emotional toll caused by being one of the 156 girls Larry Nassar, the former Olympic Team doctor, was convicted for sexually abusing in 2017. She has gone on record to say her perseverance to compete publicly comes from wanting to create a safer environment for her teammates.
In April, She told NBC’s Today :“I just feel like everything that happened, I had to come back to the sport to be a voice, to have change happen. Because I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side.”
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