By Contributing Author Mary Guthrie for Zaftyg Magazine.

Athletes are human, too. This Tuesday, Simone Biles is no longer, simultaneously, a top athlete and a woman in silence. There is no more silence. The gymnastic sent a message for the whole world: the mental health of athletes matter.

Simone Biles’ career is a thing of legend. She is considered the best gymnast of all time. She holds the record for the number of world champion medals, both as a part of the U.S. team and as an individual. She has pushed the sport into a new stratosphere, with the most difficult, astounding and dangerous of moves. 


Simone Biles pulled herself out of the U.S. gymnastics team competition at the Olympics in Tokyo. She wanted to preserve her team’s best chance to win a medal. Biles still led the team and helped them grasp that they all deserved to be there, and are all Olympians. She also knew that to continue at that point would be to put herself in danger.

Read more.

And Still I Rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Simone Bile’s collarbone bears a quotation from the poem by Maya Angelou – And still I rise.”

Image: Simone Biles Instagram

A beautiful reminder of the strength that bears her forward, the quote is a glance over her shoulder as she springs into motion and surges ahead.

If you watch Biles’ vault during Team USA’s first rotation in the finals, you will understand her concern. It’s called the Amanar – flying through the air, flipping in a pike position (with the body fully laid out) and twisting two and a half times. Biles lost herself in the air and couldn’t feel where she was. She only completed one and a half twists and fell out of her landing. 

What armchair analysts don’t get is that to continue to compete as a gymnast when you can’t find yourself in the air is to risk injury, paralysis or worse.

Biles knew she was having trouble during the long wait between morning practice and the competition. She was shaking. “[I] never felt like this before … Once I came out here, I was like, No, the mental is not there. I had to let the girls do it… I felt like it would be better to take a back seat,” she explained. “I didn’t want to risk the team a medal because they worked way too hard for my screwups.”


There’s been some backlash online, mostly from male commentators, talking about how quitting is bad. Someone said Biles didn’t want to continue because it wasn’t “fun.” Someone else called her “a shame on the country… a selfish psychopath… weak.”

Some have had the audacity to suggest that a survivor of sexual abuse doesn’t actually belong to herself.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

“It’s been really stressful this Olympic Games,” she said. “It’s been a long week, a long Olympic process, a long year. I think we’re a little too stressed out — we should be out here having fun, and that’s just not the case.” – Simone Biles.

And now, finally, Biles can stop and rest. She gets to decide if and when she’s ready to continue. 


Her Life

Biles went into foster care as a young girl, then was adopted by older relatives. She trained in gymnastics with Bela and Marta Karolyi, the Romanian coaches who came to the U.S. and built a powerhouse gymnastics program. Unfortunately, the Karolyis were also emotionally abusive to many of the children they coached. Fear, anger, forced training with limited food – life at the Karolyi Ranch was a dictatorship, and USA Gymnastics looked the other way for many years.

Like many other young girl gymnasts, Biles was sexually abused by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Nasser. But again, USA Gymnastics ignored warnings about Nasser for years.

Winning meant more to them than the minds and bodies of the young girls they should’ve been protecting. Rather than being nurtured, many gymnasts – Olympians, champions – were used, broken and thrown away.  Those girls only had one Olympics.

Simone Biles spoke out against the Karolyis, their Ranch, Nasser and USA Gymnastics. She has stayed strong and continued to compete well into adulthood. She is now a powerful woman.

Biles could’ve retired from gymnastics after Dr. Nasser was prosecuted and sent to prison, but she wanted to return to this Olympics to show that she hadn’t been defeated by what he did. 

This Olympics

Biles has been losing points in recent competitions for incredibly difficult gymnastics moves because judges found them to be TOO difficult and would be dangerous for other athletes to attempt.

Biles said she couldn’t wait for the Tokyo Olympics, but it turns out she meant she couldn’t wait for them to end.

She has been injured and competed many times in the past, but she has said her pain levels right now are “unreal.”

“It wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it. I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke! BUT I’m happy my family was able to be with me virtually🤍 they mean the world to me!” Biles wrote in an Instagram post.


Biles has an unusual amount of power because everyone knows she’s the GOAT – Greatest of All Time. Her voice guides Team USA and the future of the sport.  

It is wise for her to rest. Black women have carried the weight of the world for much of history. 

Simone Biles has carried more pressure than any of us could bear. The Olympics are an event soaked in history and national pride. Still, somehow, we’ve come to view them as just another entertainment, and the athletes as mere performers. Somehow viewers on the couch feel ownership for the toil, talent and sacrifice of athletes like Biles. 

Biles is showing authentic leadership and demonstrating to generations of gymnasts to come that their bodies are their own. And Simone Biles will still leap, welling and swelling to bring in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

According to CNN: “

“I have to focus on my mental health,’ says Simone Biles after withdrawing from gold medal event

Updated 12:26 PM EDT July 27, 2021
Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo

Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Tuesday, citing mental heath concerns as she attempts to protect “her body and mind.”

After the final — won by the the Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) — Biles broke down in tears as she explained her decision.”

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