What Clinicians Can Learn from Simone Biles’ Decision to Prioritize Her Mental Health

What Clinicians Can Learn from Simone Biles’ Decision to Prioritize Her Mental Health

On Sunday night, NBC’s primetime broadcast of the women’s qualifications largely elided routines by Biles’s teammates and lingered on her mistakes, in an effort to explain Russia’s surprising lead. “The big reason?” Tim Daggett, a veteran commentator who competed in the 1984 Olympics, said. “Because Simone Biles is not being Simone Biles-like today.” And yet a remarkable element of Tuesday’s competition was the grace with which Biles’s teammates, a trio of first-time Olympians, collected themselves to complete the meet without their leader. Sunisa Lee, an eighteen-year-old, nailed a dizzying connection that she had missed on the uneven bars during qualifications and stuck her dismount, a full-twisting double tuck.



Simone Biles opens up about her mental health post-Olympics: 'I'm still  scared to do gymnastics' | CNN



Grace McCallum, also eighteen, anchored the team with clean routines on every apparatus. Perhaps the most moving competitor to watch was Jordan Chiles, a twenty-year-old, who had at one point considered quitting gymnastics after failing to qualify for an international roster. “I didn’t think the sport wanted me anymore,” she recently told the Times. Instead, she moved to Texas to train with Biles, and the duo—“Chiles and Biles,” as they have been called—established themselves as sisters on and off the floor. Last weekend, Chiles, too, made several errors in the Tokyo qualifications. But, on Tuesday, when Biles withdrew, Chiles readied herself at a moment’s notice and delivered a hit routine on the uneven bars. On the beam, in the next rotation, she maintained her poise, and wisely decided to end her routine with a simpler dismount, a double pike instead of a full-twisting tuck, to guarantee a steady performance.




USA Gymnastics on Twitter: "Official statement: "Simone Biles has withdrawn  from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be  assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions."



In a conversation last week, the gymnast Aly Raisman, a two-time Olympian and a former teammate of Biles’s, told me, “Gold medals shouldn’t be the most important thing.” Gymnastics is a notoriously punishing sport: as Raisman explained, athletes are often encouraged, if not forced, to compete despite injuries. Perhaps the most famous athlete to do so was Kerri Strug, who, in the 1996 Olympic team final, performed a second vault on an injured ankle before being escorted off the mat by her coaches and by Larry Nassar, a team trainer at the time. That year, the U.S. women won gold, and the moment has since been mythologized as an exemplar of athletic grit. Today, though, Strug’s painful hop landing reads differently, less as a heroic sacrifice than as an unnecessary and essentially career-ending strain. To many spectators, Biles’s decision not to compete on Tuesday is a heartbreak, but it is also a welcome example of an athlete setting her own limits.



Olympics: Simone Biles captures historic 7th medal in her return – Orange  County Register




After Biles’s rocky vault performance, some observers speculated that she had been suffering from “the twisties,” a gymnast’s term for a loss of air awareness during routines. Continuing to compete in that state would have been downright dangerous; it’s easy to forget that the skills gymnasts strain to render seemingly effortless could, with even minor slips, leave them paralyzed or worse. At a press conference later in the morning, standing beside her three teammates, Biles said that she had exited the competition because the pressure had become too much. She cited as inspiration Naomi Osaka, the Japanese American tennis champion who withdrew from two Grand Slam tournaments earlier this year to prioritize her mental health. “We have to protect our minds and our bodies, and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do,” Biles said.

Her withdrawal from the team final was not the handy victory that the public, or USA Gymnastics, was expecting from her at the Olympics. But it was its own kind of achievement, one that has the potential to affect the next generation of gymnasts more than any single medal could.


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