Simone Biles influences younger generations

Simone Biles influences younger generations

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics came with many surprises, including the year-long setback due to Covid-19. However, I believe the most influential surprise was the withdrawal of one of the world’s most dominant female athletes: Simone Biles. 

Heading into the games, Biles, also known as the G.O.A.T. in gymnastics, had already obtained one silver and four gold medals from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Along with these, she carried twenty-five World Championship medals under her name. With all these accomplishments under her belt, she was projected to dominate the competition, and I expected her to come home with five more Olympic gold medals. 

Walking into the arena, Biles stated that she felt like she was carrying “the weight of the world” on her shoulders and later talked about how she came down with a case of the “twisties.” Personally, throughout my years of gymnastics, I have learned that the “twisties” are dangerous and not something to mess with. She explained it as a disconnect between her mind and body, resulting in her body not doing what her mind was telling it to do.

“I literally cannot tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever, not having an inch of control over your body,” Biles said. “What’s even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land or what I’m going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…”

During the first team finals event, the gold medalist made an uncharacteristic fall. What was supposed to be a two-and-a-half twist off of the vault ended up only being one-and-a-half, something I had never expected to see. After completing the rotation, Biles made one of the hardest but most influential decisions of her career and pulled herself out of the competition.  Seen as a failure to some but an inspiration to many, Biles was able to use this decision to shine a light on the importance of mental health in athletes. 

“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness,” Biles said in an interview with NPR. “It’s been really stressful, this Olympic Games. I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week; it’s been a long Olympic process; it’s been a long year. So just a lot of different variables, and I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out.”

While some have attacked Biles, calling her a “national embarrassment,” many, including myself, have sided with her and provided support. Many other big names have praised Biles for her decision, including swimmer Michael Phelps who firmly believes that it will “blow the doors open” over athlete mental health. 

Growing up, watching the greatest of all time succeed in every competition she went to led me to believe that nothing could phase her. With a huge following that includes many young gymnasts like myself, I could see how wrong I was and how much her decision impacted the sports world. Now knowing that I should not feel ashamed to put my mental health first, I have been able to shift sports into a healthy and more enjoyable place to dedicate my time.