Recovering Biles beams on beam after winning hearts as well as bronze


Simone Biles became a global star with four golds at the Rio Games.

Yet she is now arguably even more famous for opting out of most events at the Tokyo Olympics – and for making it acceptable for top sporting names to talk about mental health.

She withdrew from the team final last week after struggling on the vault. She gained silver along with her US team-mates but that was just the start of her battle to try to get her mind and body in sync.

In the press conference after the team final she openly used the term “mental health”, which for years was an unwritten no-go for Olympic athletes at the very top of their sports.

Games’ stars were always expected to be totally focused and driven, almost like machines. Not anymore.

She decided to skip all individual finals except for the beam, where she took bronze on Tuesday with a hugely impressive display considering her problems.
“I was proud of myself just to go out there after what I’ve been through,” she said.

The 24-year-old can also be proud of a stance which has made it acceptable for others in sport to say the same.

British swimmer Adam Peaty, who bagged two more golds in Tokyo, announced he was taking break.

“We have such a stigma around mental well-being in sport,” he said.

“It isn’t a normal job. There is a huge amount of pressure. Money does not buy happiness.

“I’m taking a break because I’ve been going extremely hard for as long as I can remember. I’ve averaged two weeks off a year for the last seven years.”

Top English cricketer Ben Stokes is also taking time out while Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka first put the issue in the headlines at May’s French Open when she withdrew because of the pressure she felt under having to do press conferences.

Sympathy for Osaka was patchy, equally so when she went out of the Tokyo Games in the third round having lit the cauldron and made similar comments about it all being too much.

Biles though has won plaudits for talking so frankly. She never used the word “depressed” but said her mental well-being was affected by a gymnastics phenomenon called “twisties”, where an athlete cannot pinpoint where they are in the air and how they are going to land.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, in the stands for her bronze, praised her saying: “She admits to having this problem. This is already courageous.”

Teresa Enke, whose husband the Germany football goalkeeper Robert Enke suffered from depression and took his life, also hailed her while world football’s governing body FIFA has launched a campaign to raise awareness of mental health conditions – in part due to Biles.

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