Right now, Simone Biles’ fans must be wondering if they will see her out-of-this-world talents again at the Tokyo Olympics. They may never have imagined that this young woman — who set seemingly impossible new goals for herself even when doing less still would have set her on a different plane from all others in the sport — could withdraw from the team competition one day, and then the individual all-around right after.
What’s truly remarkable about the past couple of days isn’t so much that Biles pulled herself from the running but that she candidly told the public that the issue was her strained mental health, not a strained muscle. Just as noteworthy: Support for her decision, both among the public and in the sports and celebrity worlds, has far outweighed the occasional rants among the Twitterati.
It may have helped Biles to see another elite young competitor, tennis player Naomi Osaka, also put her mental health first when she refused in May to participate in the mandatory news conferences at the French Open, a tournament from which she ended up withdrawing. Osaka had given clues for months that she was under considerable strain but said she hadn’t wanted to reveal her mental health struggles. She felt pressured to by the intense scrutiny and criticism of her. The media were less kind than they have been to Biles, perhaps because the lack of access to Osaka hit them where it hurt. Or maybe they’ve seen the error of their ways since then.