Even the GOAT needs a break sometimes. Simone Biles shocked the world when she bowed out of the Tokyo Olympics — but that wasn’t the first time she’d advocated for her mental health.
In July 2021, the four-time Olympic gold medalist fell while trying to land a vault in the team final in Japan and subsequently took herself out of the competition. Teammates Jordan Chiles, Suni Lee and Grace McCallum carried on without their leader, ultimately placing second behind the Russian Olympic Committee.
Though she was seen consulting with the team’s training staff, Biles later confirmed that she “thankfully” didn’t have a physical injury. “That’s why I took a step back, because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured,” she told reporters after the medal ceremony. “I thought it was best if these girls took over and did the rest of the job — which they absolutely did, they’re Olympic silver medalists now. And they should be really proud of themselves for how well they did last-minute, having to [adjust].”
The Dancing With the Stars alum “got a little bit lost in the air” while attempting her risky skill, she explained. “It’s just something we have to go in the gym and work on.”
Longtime fans of the gymnast were surprised to see her do anything other than power through in the face of adversity. However, staying in the competition could have “robbed” the team of their medal — and could have ended in serious injury.
“I knew they would be OK without me. Just watching them train, they’re a couple of the strongest competitors I know,” Biles said of her elite teammates. “Their heads are always on straight, and they have a lot of dedication and courage.”
Biles has proven herself to be one of the best athletes in the world — not just in her sport — but has had her fair share of battles behind the scenes. In 2018, she revealed that she was one of the many gymnasts who were sexually abused by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar, whose victims also include Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas. He faces more than 170 years in prison for assaulting women and girls.
The Ohio native didn’t immediately come forward with her story because she was still coming to terms with what had happened. “It’s not like we had a lot of people to talk about it with,” she recalled in an episode of Simone vs Herself. “I remember asking one of my friends, ‘Hey, have I been sexually assaulted?’ and I thought I was being dramatic at first, and she said, ‘No, absolutely.'”
After starting to accept that she was a survivor of abuse, Biles felt “super depressed” and “shut everybody out,” she admitted in the Facebook series.
“With gymnasts, when you get injured, your heal time is four to six weeks, but then with something so traumatic that happens like this?” she added. “There is no four to six weeks, so it’s hard for us to process that. There’s, like, no time limit or healing time for it, so you just take it day by day.”
Raisman was one of many fellow athletes to show Biles support after her exit from the Tokyo tournament in July 2021. Former teammate Laurie Hernandez reminded fans that there’s more at stake than just a gold medal.
“When something like this happens, there’s just immense pressure [and] this feeling of, ‘I don’t want to let my team down.’ … At the end of the day, mentally, physically, we just want to make sure she’s OK,” she told Today at the time. “Having to put that much pressure on [Simone] to carry the team to gold, it’s not fair. This is a team of four, not a team of one.”
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Scroll down for a look back at some of Biles’ most inspiring comments about caring for her mind and body: