Simone Biles is, just as well all expected, The Story of the Tokyo Olympics. It's just that Biles isn't the story for any reason anyone expected. Biles, arguably the greatest female gymnast of all-time, was supposed to come out on a tear and dominate. Team USA fans were hopeful to watch her carry America to another team gold medal. Instead, she let them carry her to silver.
Simone Biles' exit from the team competition this morning was both simple and chaotic. After a subpar performance on the vault, Biles spoke with coaches and trainers and decided to shut it down. On the NBC broadcast (streaming exclusively on Peacock, only meant for general public consuption hours later in primetime) a coach told someone that Biles had taken herself out for mental reasons. The USA Gymnastics Twitter account said it was for a medical reason. Did she hurt her ankle or was she distracted? The truth was that Biles' head was not in the right place, which means they were both right.
Biles had scored a subpar 13.766 on the vault. It was a score well below her usual which put Team USA in a hole behind Russia. With a medal on the line, Biles made an incredibly difficult decision and took herself out. Rather than put herself in harm's way and her teammates in danger of missing out on a medal some of them would never get another shot at, she took herself out of the lineup on the sport's biggest stage.
"You have to be there 100%," Biles told reporters after the meet. "If not, you get hurt. Today has been really stressful. I was shaking. I couldn't nap. I have never felt like this going into a competition, and I tried to go out and have fun. But once I came out, I was like, 'No. My mental is not there.'" - ESPN
We don't know what was going through Biles' head beyond what she has told us. What we do know is that her team won the silver medal. She did not cost her teammates a medal. She was right to trust in her teammates, even if she had no choice.
Maybe the most improtant thing to note for those who might question her decision is that her teammates supported her. There was no hesitation. She told them directly and in the same breath told them they this is what they had been trianing their whole lives for. It's nice to have the best gymnast in the world, but Biles told them they could do it themselves.
if Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, or Grace McCallum had messed up after Biles had removed herself and Team USA hadn't won a medal, who knows where this conversation would be headed. Would that young woman be the object of Internet scorn? Or would Biles simply be someone who choked? That is obviously absurd.
Biles has litereally been there before. She won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She's won 19 more gold medals at the World Championships in her career. This is not someone who has ever shrunk from the moment or shied away from pressure. If she says something was different, something was different.
What she did was pretty brave, if not unprecendented. Hopefully, she'll be in the right head space to compete in the individual events. And however she does there will drive another round of debate about what happened on Tuesday night, even though it shouldn't.
Combined with the honesty of guys like Trae Young, Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka (who lost in the third round of the Olympic tennis tournament earlier) have forced us to reconsider how we look at mental health for athletes. Biles and Osaka are the first to take a big step back in a very big moment. Osaka with majors and now Biles in the middle of the Olympics.
It's something most (? Many? Some?) will never understand. These people are under a microscope with the public eye peering down at them. There are millions of dollars on the line. Most people have problems. Athletes of this stature have them with everyone watching. It's not that one is necessarily tougher than the other, but we're going to see their struggles.
The fact that someone as high profile as Biles on the biggest possible stage is willing and able to say she needs to look out for her own mental well-being is a good thing. If you don't understand, that's understandable. You should just hope that if the time comes when you can't deal with something, you'll find the support of someone who does.