ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — American gymnastics superstar Simone Biles’ early exit from the Tokyo Olympics has sparked a conversation about the athlete’s mental health amid the competitiveness nature of sports.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles quit the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.
She posted on social media on Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. The weight became too heavy after vaulting during team finals. She lost herself in mid-air and completed 1 1/2 twists instead of 2 1/2. She consulted with U.S. team doctor Marcia Faustin before walking off the field of play.
11-year-old Annie Cole, who attends the Gymnastics Academy of Rockford, has been a gymnast for 6 years and says she has a few things in common with Biles.
“I was telling myself I couldn’t do this, I was not going to make it, I wasn’t good enough for this sport,” Cole said. “Just like I can’t do anything, telling myself there’s no point in trying if you can’t do it.”
Lori Aamodt owns the Gymnastics Academy of Rockford, and says she discusses mental health with her students every week.
“I would say this happens a lot with very talented athletes, because they learn so much so fast that it’s hard for the brain to keep up,” Aamodt said. “And, they’re also the hardest on themselves when they have a problem like this, because they expect so much.”
Cole says she considers herself a perfectionist and has battled with her own perceived shortcomings.
“I just felt like I couldn’t believe in myself…I try to help myself, [I] was just talking through it with my parents and my coaches, trying to make them understand what I’m going through,” she said.
Mental health advocates say Biles’ decision to quit will help create conversations about mental health.
“I would consider her even stronger for saying, ‘hey, I need my space and this is what I have to do for myself.’ And I think that will be a role model for a bunch of different people,” said Danielle Angileri, the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Northern Illinois.
With the help of her family, coaches, and counselors, Cole says she has been able to take on the things that made her doubt herself.
“I feel amazing. I feel like I can believe in myself, whenever I want to do. I feel like if I can put my mind to it, I can definitely do it,” she said.
NAMI offers support for people suffering mental health problems.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.