In a heartbreaking tweet, Simone Biles hinted at feeling like she’s not more than her gymnastics wins
Since she announced she was withdrawing from several Olympics events — first the gymnastics team final, and then the individual all-around — Simone Biles has received a lot of love and support. Her decision to withdraw to focus on her mental health is a true champion move. She knew that taking care of herself was more important than winning more medals, no matter what spectators expected from her.
But none of us could have predicted what would come next.
In a tweet that’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Biles revealed that the outpouring of support she’s received has made her realize her own self-worth — for the first time.
“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,” she wrote.
It’s wonderful that Biles is seeing that now, but the fact that the 24-year-old never believed that she was more than her titles and medals before this is deeply disheartening. In fact, Biles has accomplished so much more than just being the greatest gymnast of all time.
First, there’s what she’s doing during these Games. By prioritizing her mental health, Biles is setting a precedent that will benefit athletes for years to come. The pressure placed on Olympic competitors is intense. Is it too intense? At times, probably. Biles’s decision to withdraw from competition and be candid about not being mentally prepared to compete shines a light on this issue. It shows us that more than being performers, representative of their home countries, athletes are humans.
Biles has also been an incredible inspiration as a teammate. After withdrawing from several events, she remained on the sidelines, cheering on her teammates. Even though she’s the best athlete on the USA team, she wants the best for her teammates and understands that any of their success is the success of the entire team.
There’s even more than that, though. Biles has been unapologetic about her greatness — as a Black woman. In a sport where men like Michael Phelps and Tom Brady receive exactly zero shit for saying they’re the best, Black and women athletes are met with a chorus of “well, actuallys” when they do the same. But Biles has never been afraid to say what’s true: That she is the greatest of all time. Embroidering her leotard for the U.S. Championships with an outline of a goat’s head above her name was an iconic move.
And then there’s one of the hardest, bravest, most incredibly impactful things anyone has ever done in the sport of gymnastics: Standing up to Larry Nassar and those who enabled his abuse.
One month after the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a single athlete told reporters that Nassar, a longtime team physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, had sexually abused her. More than 350 women and girls would eventually come forward to share stories of their own abuse. Biles was one of them.
But because of her fame, the weight attached to Biles’s name, something was finally done. USA Gymnastics only stopped holding training camps where Nassar had worked after Biles said she didn’t want to go there. It was Biles’s criticism of then-CEO Kerry Perry and interim leader Mary Bono that forced both to step down.
What Biles told USA Today before the Tokyo games even began is telling, in hindsight: “It’s been a lot. That was the biggest struggle about (the delay of the Tokyo Olympics.) I thought I was going to be done with USA Gymnastics and the USOPC and all of that stuff. And now it’s just like, ‘Oh gosh, another year of dealing with them.'”
Another year of dealing with the organization that facilitated her sexual abuse. Let that sink in.
With all of that on her shoulders, Biles still showed up in Tokyo. But mentally, she wasn’t ready to compete. And that’s OK. She’s accomplished so much in her 24 years, including shouldering the burden of being the voice of hundreds of women and girls who were sexually assaulted. While continuing to compete. While winning. While working with and representing USA Gymnastics, after they betrayed her safety.
If Biles wants to stop competing forever, she will always be more than her medals and titles. Her character speaks to so much more than another gold medal ever could. On and off the competition floor, she is the greatest of all time.