A week after withdrawing from the team finals to prioritize her mental health, Simone Biles competed in the balance-beam finals, taking home a bronze medal for the U.S. “I wasn’t expecting to walk away with the medal,” Biles said after Tuesday’s event, per the New York Times. “I was just going out there doing this for me.” China’s Guan Chenchen took home gold, while her teammate Tang Xijing won silver. Biles added, “To have one more opportunity to be at the Olympics meant the world to me.”
After pulling out of last week’s team finals, Biles subsequently withdrew from the individual all-around competition as well as the event finals for floor, uneven bars, and vault. During a press conference after the team finals, Biles said this Olympics has been “really stressful,” especially given its unique circumstances related to the pandemic. A few days later, after Biles reportedly said she was ready to compete again, she found out her aunt had unexpectedly died. Her coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi recalled, “I asked her what do you need. And she said, ‘I just need some time.’”
At the press conference after the beam finals, Biles reiterated the importance of athletes’ mental health. “At the end of the day, we’re not just entertainment, we’re humans,” Biles said. “And I think people forget that.”
On Friday, Biles said she’d also been struggling with “the twisties,” a term gymnasts use to describe an often-disorienting mental block similar to the one Biles appeared to experience while performing her vault during last week’s team finals. “Literally can not tell up from down,” she said on her Instagram Story. “It’s the craziest feeling ever. Not having an inch of control over your body.” She said it’s “honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync. 10/10 do not recommend.” After announcing that she’d be taking a break in Tokyo to focus on her mental health, Biles received an outpouring of support from fellow gymnasts who recognized that athletes, especially of Biles’s caliber, are often expected to sacrifice their health for the sake of competition. As Biles aptly wrote on Friday: “Physical health is mental health.”
In a different Instagram post, Biles expressed gratitude for the support she’s felt from her peers and the public: “The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
This post has been updated.