When Simone Biles, described as the world’s greatest gymnast, announced July 27 she would not be competing in a team event with the U.S. women’s Olympics gymnastics team and the next day withdrew from the all-around final, many people were shocked, but many supported her decision to prioritize her mental health.
Counsellors and spiritual directors at Catholic colleges and ministries who spoke with Catholic News Service echoed a similar view and also said her action opened up a broader and much-needed discussion about the importance of mental health care.
Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, told reporters she was not in the right state of mind to continue the competition after she completed one fewer than planned mid-air twists in the team’s first event and uncharacteristically stumbled on her landing.
Later, she said she had experienced as a “little bit of the twisties,” an almost quaint term used by gymnasts that belies its meaning of losing control of one’s body while in the air.
That particular sensation is one most Olympics viewers likely can’t even begin to relate to, but the feeling of “fighting all those demons,” which Biles said she had been doing along with a sense of the “weight of the world” on her shoulders, is something non-Olympic stars can grasp on one level.
“Even if we aren’t carrying around the pressure of performing as one of the greatest athletes of all time, we are all susceptible to the undercurrents in our culture that preach grit, grind and pushing through,” wrote Zac Davis, associate editor of America magazine.