Simone Biles could have made her most “important” contribution to sport by speaking up about her mental health, despite her “countless extraordinary achievements”, according to the British Athletes Commission (BAC).
The American gymnastics superstar this morning withdrew from the vault and uneven bars finals, having pulled out of the team final after one vault and deciding against taking part in the individual all-around.
Biles could still compete in the floor and balance beam, but has been speaking candidly about going through the ‘twisties’ - a psychological condition some gymnasts experience when they lose control of their perspective when performing exercises in the air.
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But the BAC, which represents over 1,200 British Olympic and Paralympic athletes, says the multiple world and Olympic champion may have changed sport forever by being so honest about her health.
“The phrase ‘defining moment’ – in a sporting context – usually refers to performances which will be remembered for years or even decades, and inspire generations to come. What Simone Biles chose to do at Tokyo’s Ariake Gymnastics Centre this week ticks those boxes and more,” the BAC said in a statement.
“For a long time sport, like society, has not treated mental health with the respect and importance that it deserves. Whilst there has been ample focus and investment on getting athletes back to health after a physical injury, for decades, mental wellbeing has been at best misunderstood, and at worst, ignored.
“There’s no doubt now, that things are changing. While some of the more general reaction to Simone Biles’ withdrawal illustrates the progress still to be made in society’s understanding of mental health issues, it was incredibly heartening to see the universal support that her decision attracted from her fellow athletes.
“These athletes – for the most part, of Simone’s generation – have grown up surrounded by a more progressive attitude to mental health, and are involved in an elite sport system which, while still being some way short of perfect, has genuinely now begun to invest in its athletes as people, rather than sporting commodities.”
Later in the statement, the BAC praised Biles’ “courage”, and said she has turned the tide on the stigma of mental health: “For all Simone Biles’ countless extraordinary achievements, pushing forward the conversation on mental health and providing a courageous and unprecedented example to current and future athletes around the world, may just turn out to be her most important.”
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