After withdrawing from the women’s team gymnastics final on Tuesday, Simone Biles told assembled reporters that she had pulled out to “focus on her mindfulness” and her mental health after a “long week.”
Biles, who struggled on her vault during the first rotation Tuesday, then withdrew from the competition for a “medical issue,” according to a team statement. She did not compete in the U.S.’s last three events, instead remaining on the sidelines to cheer on her teammates. She confirmed in an interview that she was not physically injured and had experienced “just a little injury to my pride.”
“I never felt like this going into a competition before,” she said. “I needed to let the girls do it and just focus on myself.”
After Biles withdrew, the Russia Olympic Committee took gold and Team USA placed second. The U.S. had been the favorites going in, and while Biles had not performed to her typical standards in the preliminaries, she still topped all-around qualifying on Sunday.
“But at the end of the day it’s like, we want to walk out of here, not be dragged out here on a stretcher,” she told reporters. “I just don’t trust myself as much as I used to. And I don’t know if it’s age—I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun, and I know that.”
When reporters asked Biles, who won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, what her plan was for the rest of the Olympics, she said she hoped to perform in a couple more events but indicated that she wasn’t sure she would. The individual all-around competition will take place on Thursday. Her goal for the Olympics, she said, was primarily to “focus on my well-being. You know there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”
She also indicated that COVID restrictions had compounded the stress of the competition. “It’s been a long week, a long Olympic process, a long year,” she said. She added: “It does suck when you do feel the weight of the world and you feel like there are no outlets for the amount of training that we do. We were totally prepared, but it just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”
When a reporter tried to praise Biles for speaking about her mental health, she cut the reporter off. “I didn’t do my job,” she said. The second-place finish had “nothing to do with me,” she added.
On Monday, Biles had hinted in an Instagram post that even before her performance in the finals, she had been struggling with the pressure of her celebrity. “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” she wrote. “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke!”
On Tuesday, she indicated that she was ready to prioritize her own mental health in the face of that pressure. “We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.”