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CONTENT WARNING: This article touches on subjects of sexual abuse and assault.
Simone Biles is one of the most renowned athletes in the world, best known for her success on the US national women’s gymnastics team. The Texas-born athlete is the first female to win four consecutive medals in one Olympic Games, and she holds three consecutive world titles. What makes her a phenomenal athlete isn’t her drive to succeed or her incredible attention to detail though, but the level of intricacy and difficulty that she incorporates into her routines.
The expectations were exceptionally high for Biles to compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, that is, until she withdrew from most of her events due to a mental block referred to as “the twisties”, which is relatively common amongst gymnasts. The “twisties” refers to a loss of spatial awareness when gymnasts are performing complex aerial moves. Her personal choice to not compete sparked controversy and helped raise a lot of awareness about the intense pressure placed on high-level athletes and the disregard for their mental health and well-being.
Contrary to popular belief, Simone Biles has not had an easy journey to get to where she is in her gymnastics career at the age of 24.
A memoir, published back in 2016 titled Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance written by Michelle Buford highlights that Biles was not in fact an overnight sensation. Biles’ career began with her being a young girl terrified of foster care, learning from her mother’s substance use, and eventually creating a new life for herself by handling the high pressures of competitive sport. This memoir also highlights the struggles Biles faces with negative body image, setbacks and the importance of losing with pride, and how she pushes through. This book is a phenomenal read and can be downloaded or read as an Ebook here.
Recent news has come to the attention of the public when the documentary titled Athlete-A was released on Netflix about the emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by the USA women’s gymnastics team. The documentary mentions Simone Biles along with 500 other young women who fell victim to former team doctor and convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar.
“I too am one of the many survivors that was sexually abused by Larry Nassar. There are many reasons that I have been reluctant to share my story, but I know now it is not my fault,” said Biles on social media in 2018.
Biles, along with many other young female athletes, suffered in silence for so long because as gymnasts, they were conditioned to obey and push through tough times, which unfortunately desensitized the athletes to the abuse.
Both mental health awareness and support for sexual abuse survivors are more prevalent than ever nowadays, which is important as we should all realize just how much pressure is on all athletes, regardless of the level at which they compete, as well as how much risk they face of enduring sexual abuse. Hopefully, Biles taking a step back to prioritize her mental health will be a huge awakening and shed some light on these important issues and others in the athletic community.