Simone Biles, world-renowned American artistic gymnast, shocked the world when she withdrew from the gymnastics team competition finals at the Tokyo Olympics. Biles took a single vault with an unfinished landing which did not stick in the team competition finals before returning to the sidelines to cheer on her teammates. This appeared uncharacteristic of her, considering her top-tier skills as a gymnast, which have awarded her 32 Olympic and World Championship medals in the past.
“It's honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind and body in sync,” Biles stated on her Instagram account. At the time, Biles said that she had the “twisties,” a mental block whilst performing.
In addition to the “twisties,” Simone also revealed after winning bronze on the beam that her aunt unexpectedly died while she was in Tokyo representing the USA in the Olympics.
In the same vein, Naomi Osaka, the Japanese four-time Grand Slam singles champion, also left a message about the mental health of professional athletes. After being defeated by Markéta Vondroušová in the third round at the Tokyo Olympics, she noted that she was under immense pressure for being the face of the Games.
Osaka had been transparent about her mental health issues in the past; she did not attend the French Open in May 2021 in consideration of her mental health, and also did not participate in Wimbledon due to her battle with depression and anxiety.
Biles’ withdrawal and Osaka’s defeat consequently opened up discussion about the mental health of elite athletes. Biles herself commented that mental health “should be talked about more, especially with athletes,” and left with an important message:
“We’re not just entertainment, we’re humans and there are things going on behind the scenes that we’re also trying to juggle with as well on top of sports.”