Eurosport expert Keri-anne Payne believes Simone Biles is inspiring people beyond the world of gymnastics after the four-time Olympic gold medallist withdrew from the all-around individual event she was expected to win to focus on her mental health.
Biles had already pulled out of the team event with the USA on Tuesday and had reached all five individual finals at Tokyo 2020.
However, the 24-year-old felt she had to "protect her mind and body" and stated that athletes are people too.
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Payne, who is a two-time 10-kilometre open water world champion for Great Britain, was full of praise for Biles’ stance during an interview in the Eurosport Cube.
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Asked about how extraordinary it was that Biles didn’t think she was enough beyond a gymnast, Payne said:
“Everything she is doing is helping her to be this Olympian. Her life has revolved around the Olympics. When I was training, I was part of a seven-person strong team, who are all trying to make the Olympics. If you didn’t make the Olympics in that team, at the time it was seen as a failure because it was just something that was talked about all the time.
So, that’s her life, that’s her world right now. It’s not a surprise that she thinks that’s her worth essentially, but she is worth so much more than that. This is a massive moment in her career, even more massive than standing on the Olympic podium and things like that.
“To be brave enough to say that things aren’t quite right for me right now and I need to be honest about it, and show the world that it’s OK to say this. I’m really glad she’s seen the love and support from the rest of the world. It’s really heartfelt and love is always going to win over the hate you see out there.”
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Payne suggested her own experience of failing to meet expectations were similar to what Biles was experiencing, but that even a lack of a medal can help people to take an interest in a sport or be inspired.
Payne won silver at the Beijing Olympics and was a favourite to claim gold in her home Games in London in 2012. However, she finished just outside the medals, but found her disappointment didn’t stop people finding a connection with her.
She added: “It’s just really interesting because at the London Olympics I came fourth. It was the home Olympics, I was favourite going in, double world champion. It was heartbreaking, I can guarantee you that.
"I thought this is the end of my career, but even today, many years later, I still get people coming up to me and saying because of that race you’ve inspired me to take open water swimming. I came fourth, I didn’t win a medal, but I still inspired people to do the thing I love doing.
"Simone is doing that, not just with gymnastics, but so much more. She is someone we look to, someone we are all really excited to watch her perform because she is just beautiful to watch. I hope she really feels great about that."
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