After winning bronze in the women's balance beam final, seven-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles spoke out about her triumph — and her decision to step away from earlier Olympic events in order to protect her mental health. "The topic of mental health, I think it should be talked about a lot more, especially with athletes," Biles said during a press conference on Tuesday. "Because I know some of us are going through the same things and we're always told to push through it."
Last week, experts were concerned when Biles struggled to land a vault. She decided to withdraw from the all-around team finals, and USA Gymnastics later confirmed that she would not compete in the final individual all-around, either. In the days since, Biles has spoken out about the importance of prioritising her mental health over public expectations. "At the end of the day, we're not just entertainment, we're humans," Biles added during the conference. "And there are things going on behind the scenes that we're also trying to juggle as well, on top of sports."
Before withdrawing, Biles spoke candidly about the pressure of being an Olympian, the most decorated gymnast in the world, and the survivor of a highly publicised sexual assault case. On July 26, just days before the all-around team finals, Biles wrote on Instagram that she felt "the weight of the world" at times. And before that, in a 2020 Vogue profile, she said that, in the wake of reports about Larry Nassar's crimes, she felt so depressed that she slept incessantly just to escape from the world.
"I felt like I knew, I just didn't want to admit it to myself, that it had happened. Because I felt like, not that you're supposed to be perfect, but I just felt like that's what America wanted me to be — was perfect," Biles said. "It's like, How could this happen to America's sweetheart? That's how I felt — like I was letting other people down by this."
Biles received an outpouring of support for her decision to prioritise her mental well-being. She also faced some backlash but has maintained that she made the right and only choice. "I didn't have a bad performance and quit. I've had plenty of bad performances throughout my career and finished competition. I simply got so lost my safety was at risk as well as a team medal," Biles wrote in an Instagram Story. "Physical health is mental health.”"
Biles returned to the competition on Tuesday, earned a bronze medal, a score of 14.000, and a new record. With seven medals, she's now officially tied with Shannon Miller as the American gymnast with the most Olympic medals. (Biles was already the most decorated gymnast, with four gold medals to Miller's two.) But one of Biles' greatest feats this year was putting her health first and setting a positive example for her millions of fans.
"We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we're human, too," Biles said, according to AP News. "We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do."