“We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teen years, won the world all-around championship title while passing a kidney stone, put her body through an extra year of training through the pandemic, added so much difficulty to her routines that the judges literally do not know how to properly rate her skills [because] they are so ahead of her time. All of this while maintaining her responsibilities to her endorsement deals, the media, personal relationships, etc. and some people can still honestly say ‘Simone Biles is soft. She is a quitter.’”
That was gymnastics coach Andrea Orris standing up for Simone Biles after the four-time gold medalist suddenly withdrew from the team gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
Biles, 24, has also pulled out of the all-around competition later this week, where she was favored to take home another gold medal, in order to focus on her mental health, according to a statement from USA Gymnastics. And she will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not she will participate in the individual finals next week.
Biles told the media on Tuesday that she removed herself from the competition following a poor vault in order to protect herself from getting seriously hurt, as well as to ensure that she wouldn’t cost Team USA a medal “because of my screw up.” She also emphasized that while she was not physically injured, she needed to work on her “mindfulness” and give herself a break.
“It’s been really stressful, this Olympic Games,” she said. “It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympics process. It’s been a long year. So just a lot of different variables, and I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out. But we should be out here having fun, and sometimes that’s not the case.”
But as many of her supporters on social media noted, it’s been more than just a long year. In fact, it’s been three years since Biles revealed that she was one of the more than 100 female gymnasts abused by convicted former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. And as she tweeted at the time: “It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences, and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work toward my dream of competing in Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused.”
What’s more, Biles revealed in a Time interview before the Olympics began this summer that postponing the Tokyo Games from last year due to the pandemic has drawn out her trauma by also delaying her retirement from USA Gymnastics, the organization that she and other survivors feel has shown a lack of transparency and accountability with the Nassar scandal. “I don’t think the extra year helped with that, since it was, ‘Ugh, another year dealing with [USA Gymnastics], another year dealing with this,’ ” she said. “How much can I take before I’ve had enough?”
Biles is also the only one of Nassar’s survivors who is still a competing member of the national team. She told “Today” show anchor Hoda Kotb that she feels the need to stay in the spotlight in order to keep USA Gymnastics accountable. “If there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport they would’ve just brushed it to the side,” she said.
“Another year dealing with [USA Gymnastics], another year dealing with this. How much can I take before I’ve had enough?”
— Simone Biles
And when gymnastics coach Orris shared her lengthy post highlighting the obstacles Biles has overcome, including Nassar’s abuse, Biles shared it from her official Instagram and Twitter accounts, hinting that this trauma was one of the many factors dogging her steps at these Games. This struck a chord with many people on social media. “Learning that Simone Biles was the only victim of Larry Nassar’s competing in Tokyo explains some of the physical pain she has been feeling while at the Games,” tweeted one. “The body keeps score.”
More than one-third of women and one-quarter of men in the U.S. will experience sexual violence during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the physical, emotional and financial toll can be devastating. The CDC estimates that the cost of rape runs around $122,461 per victim, including medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities and other expenses, and the crime carries a total economic burden of almost $3.1 trillion in the U.S. This includes $1.2 trillion in medical costs, $1.6 trillion in lost productivity at work for victims and perpetrators, and $234 billion in criminal justice costs.
Victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and experience re-occurring reproductive, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and sexual health problems, which can certainly interfere with their personal and professional lives. A related CDC report found that each victim of sexual violence lost the equivalent of $730 in short-term productivity, on average, and there was $110 billion in lost short-term productivity across all victims’ lifetimes.
On the flip side, sexual trauma survivors may also become overachievers and become addicted to work, which carries its own risks of burnout and neglecting their health and personal relationships.
The news that one of Team USA’s most popular and celebrated Olympic stars was pulling herself from the competition to take care of her mental health blew up on social media this week, with Biles’ name and #MentalHealthMatters still trending on Twitter on Wednesday, a good 24 hours after news broke that she had dropped out of the gymnastics team final, and the U.S. women’s team took the silver medal. The chatter renewed the scrutiny around mental health that fellow Olympian and tennis star Naomi Osaka brought up earlier this year when she withdrew from the French Open to take care of her own mental health.
And American swimming champion Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals (including 23 gold), has also become vocal about the weight of the wins and losses on elite athletes ever since he retired after the 2016 Games in Rio. There’s a misconception that elite athletes ride high on endorphins; in fact, while one in four college athletes show signs of depression, the NCAA reports that student athletes are actually less likely to seek help than non-athletes.
Phelps also showed his support for Biles while being interviewed on NBC, saying he hopes that this “eye-opening experience” will “blow this mental health thing even more wide open.”
“If we’re not taking care of both [physical and mental health], how are we ever expected to be 100 percent?” he asked.