American gymnast Simone Biles has withdrawn from Thursday’s individual all-around competition after previously stepping back from the team finals. She was favoured to win gold in all of her events.
“At the end of the day, we’re human too,” Biles said after leaving the women’s gymnastics team finals. “So, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”
Previously, tennis star Naomi Osaka took a mental health break after being fined $15,000 for skipping her post-game press conference. Osaka later revealed press conferences were a source of anxiety for her.
In fact, Osaka said on her decision to opt out of press conferences: “Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
In the past, gymnasts faced fatal consequences for not stepping back. Former Soviet gymnast Elena Mukhina became quadriplegic after attempting the Thomas Salto—of which she later died from—while not being fully recovered from a leg injury.
Mukhina insisted several times she was not ready to perform the move, but her team and coach were more concerned with the nation’s honour than her recovery.
American gymnast Julissa Gomez also became paralyzed and eventually died despite spectators seeing she was struggling to do the vault in the weeks leading up to her injury. That said, Mukhina and Gomez are just a few deaths in an industry filled with scandal and relentless perfection.
It takes a lot of bravery at the professional level to step back, seemingly letting others down. However, this practice should become the norm and people should be allowed to not overexert themselves.
I commend these athletes for their courage. In a world that is ruthless and emphasizes results over health they did what was necessary for their own well-being.
With an ongoing mental health crisis, it’s important governing athletic bodies ensure players are not just physically adept but mentally as well.