Simone Biles has intimated that she may withdraw from the remainder of the Tokyo Olympic Games, citing a desire to prioritise her mental health.
Biles pulled out of the women’s team event at the Ariake Arena on Tuesday after making a mistake on her opening vault, briefly leaving the arena before returning to support her team-mates for the remainder of the competition.
The 24-year-old later confirmed she was not suffering a physical injury, and had decided to take a step back because she feared she would not be able to contribute to her team’s pursuit of a third consecutive team gold medal.
“I just felt it would be a little bit better to take a back seat and work on my mindfulness,” said Biles in a remarkably honest interview following the competition, in which the US were pipped to gold by the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee.
“No injury, thankfully. That’s why I took a step back because I didn’t want to do something silly out there. I thought it was best if these girls took over. I knew they would be OK.”
Biles had entered the Tokyo Games targeting a repeat of her quadruple gold medal haul in Rio, which would make her one of the most decorated gymnasts in Olympic history.
She qualified for all four individual apparatus finals on Sunday, but still made a series of uncharacteristic mistakes by her own all-conquering standards, and said she will take the next two days to decide whether she will elect to return for the women’s all-around final on Thursday.
Biles said: “It’s been really stressful these Olympic Games, not having an audience. It’s been a long week, a long Olympic process, a long year. We are just a little bit too stressed out. We should be out here having fun.
“I feel like I’m also not having as much fun and this Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself and it felt like I was still doing for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people.
“We are going to take it a day at a time. We have a morning off tomorrow so that will be a good mental rest. We will take it from there.”
Biles’ candid explanation of her mental health concerns follows similar concerns expressed by tennis star Naomi Osaka, who took a break from top-level tennis earlier this year, and who earlier on Tuesday crashed out of the women’s singles competition.
For Biles, it seems, there is an increasing sense of perspective that may lead her to put the brakes on her previously relentless pursuit of records and reconsider the importance of the targets that she sets herself.
“There is more to life than just gymnastics,” added Biles.
“It is very unfortunate that it has to happen at this stage, because I definitely want to just do a little bit better but again take it one day at a time, and we’re going to see how the rest goes.
“There comes a time when I have to do it for myself. Coming in today was like fighting those demons. I have to do what’s right for me and not jeopardise my health and well-being.”
Biles later posted on Instagram, paying tribute to her team-mates.
“OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALISTS,” she wrote. “I’m SO proud of these girls right here. You girls are incredibly brave & talented!
“I’ll forever be inspired by your determination to not give up and to fight through adversity! They stepped up when I couldn’t. thanks for being there for me and having my back! forever love y’all.”