By Caroline Murphy / Sports Reporter
Most people know Simone Biles as the Tom Brady of gymnastics, but fewer know her personal struggles. Being one of the best at a sport also comes with stress, especially mental blocks. Biles had been dealing with mental blocks for a while and announced near the end of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics that she would be taking a break from gymnastics due to mental health setbacks.
Biles ultimately chose to opt out of competitions because of twisties; a mental block that prevented her from successfully completing her skills while in mid-air. This condition not only puts an athlete in danger, but can also lead to career-ending injuries.
In an interview with CNBC, Biles said, “Whenever you get in a high stress situation you kind of freak out and don’t really know how to handle all of those emotions, especially at the Olympic Games. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and wellbeing.”
When reflecting on Biles’ decision, Harpeth Hall freshman and current gymnast Molly Uden said, “I definitely understand why she decided to take a break, because sometimes I get scared trying a new skill and also get lost in the air. I think if she didn’t decide to take a break, she probably wouldn’t be competing today.”
CELEBRATING WINS: Simone Biles waves to audience as she celebrates her win. Photo Credit: Stacy Revere.
While Biles was not in the gym, she stayed busy. She got engaged to and recently married Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens, launched a clothing line with Athleta and became the youngest person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recognizing her advocacy for sexual assault victims and athletes’ mental health.
Finally, after Biles’ two year hiatus, on Aug. 5, 2023, the public witnessed her second debut at the U.S Classic, just outside of Chicago.
Winning the all-around competition with a 59.100, Biles told U.S NBC Broadcaster that “Everyone that was cheering, made posters and all of that, it just made my heart melt that they still believe in me. I always kind of knew, as soon as everything that happened in Tokyo [that I’d be back].”
Biles did re-enter the competition world, but the media’s viewpoints surrounding her break were divided. Backlash toward Biles implied that she abandoned her team in a moment of weakness and failed to consider her team as a whole. One journalist, Brianna Keilar, even said Biles was “using her mental health as an excuse for a bad performance.”
On the positive end of the spectrum, other media outlets saw Biles as an inspiring role model. Many mental health organizations also supported Biles’ actions- each praising her for her bravery, especially as a pro athlete. Sports journalist Joan Ryan also praised Biles’ decision. Ryan said “[I] viewed it as a testament to how the demands of elite gymnastics can wear down even the most talented individuals.”
All in all, with a successful competition under her belt, Biles is confident that she will attend the 2024 Olympics, but whether she will compete or be in the audience is undecided.