American gymnast Simone Biles said she abruptly stopped competing during the women’s gymnastics team final because she was dealing with mental problems.
Biles, speaking to reporters after the United States was beaten by Russia, said she “just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, to work on my mindfulness.”
Biles said she suffered no physical injury, despite Team USA saying earlier she was out due to “a medical issue.”
“That’s why I took a step back, because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured,” she said, calling the Olympics “really stressful.”
“We had a workout this morning. It went okay. And then just that five and a half hour wait or something, I was just like shaking, could barely nap. I’ve just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out here and have fun and warmup in the back went a little bit better. But then once I came out here, I was like, ‘No, mental is not there.’ So I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,” she said at the post-competition press conference.
Biles, 24, was replaced by Jordan Chiles, 20.
The team went on to win silver, losing to Russia. Britain took bronze.
USA’s Sunisa Lee, USA’s Grace Mc Callum, USA’s Simone Biles, and USA’s Jordan Chiles wave on the podium of the artistic gymnastics women’s team final after winning silver during the Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo, Japan on July 27, 2021. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images)
The sudden decision to withdraw despite not being injured proved divisive, drawing some support and some criticism.
Like @Simone_Biles 👇🏾, u can be a frank leader when u have/don’t have 💪🏽; use that power of the 🎙 2 draw attention 2 important issues, such as #MentalHealth; know that ppl won’t always ❤️ u, but know your worth; prioritize your health, even when you are “the best in the world.” pic.twitter.com/ShM7ZLBduz— 🟣 Mr. Tshweu (@TshweuMoleme) July 27, 2021
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, said Biles had made her proud.
“We applaud your decision to prioritize your mental wellness over all else, and offer you the full support and resources of our Team USA community as you navigate the journey ahead,” she said in a statement.
Teammates also said they backed Biles, crediting her for the silver.
But others disagreed with the move.
“We now have decorated Olympic athletes quitting in the middle of the competition because they’re sad. What an absolute embarrassment. But in some ways an appropriate representation of a country that has gone soft,” Matt Walsh, a columnist for the Daily Wire, wrote on Twitter.
Biles still has several individual events on the slate. She has not yet decided whether to participate in them.