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Three years ago I sat in a small room in an out-of-town gym in America and interviewed a young former gymnast, a victim of sexual abuse by now-imprisoned USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar.
She wanted to raise awareness, she bravely explained. But as we talked, her slim shoulders slumped and her resolute face clouded. The trauma of her experience was evident and she decided not to publish her story.
Simone Biles, at 24 not much older than that peer, has openly spoken of being one of Nassar’s over 150 victims, too.
The only one to be competing in the Tokyo Olympics.
The only one to stand tall on a global stage under stark spotlights, while fiercely advocating for all survivors and lobbying USA Gymnastics to launch an independent investigation into the scandal.
Oh, and trying to win Olympic gold numerous times over, too.
Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar has been jailed for sexually abusing more than 150 young victims
Earlier this year, she said: “I had to come back to the sport to be a voice, to have change happen.”
Taking to the floor, she carried the expectations of both her country and the world on her shoulders, plus the pressure of four previous Olympic gold medal wins. And this – a personal history and platform as role model she never wanted.
In that context, her honest admittance she cannot continue to compete because she has to focus on her mental health comes as no surprise at all. Of course she is struggling.
And it is absolutely right it is guarded, as you would guard a physical injury. Who criticised Andy Murray when he pulled out of the singles tennis because of a thigh strain to protect future performances? That was deemed sensible.
Simone Biles is a fierce advocate for other young athletes, as well as her own hardest critic
(Image: USA TODAY Sports)
An elite sportswoman would not take these decisions lightly. They are driven by a fierce competitive desire to win, and perhaps in Biles’ case, an even more potent personal drive to do so as a survivor, and for her fellow survivors.
That she is at these Olympics at all, demonstrates unbelievable grit.
She knows full well too, how physically dangerous it would be for her head not to be 100% present as she competes.
Critics might point to an over-use of mental health in recent months by young sports stars.
Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open this year admitting she has “huge waves of anxiety”.
Eighteen-year-old Emma Raducanu withdrew from her fourth-round Wimbledon match, stating later that the "whole experience caught up with me" after experiencing breathing difficulties and dizziness on the court.
The “snowflake” term is scattered easily.
Simone has pulled out of the remainder of the 2020 Olympic Games
(Image: SIPA USA/PA Images)
But put yourselves for a second in the training shoes of these young athletes and ask yourself if withdrawing from competition can ever be an easy way out?
Ferociously driven, they have committed their whole lives to perfecting their sport. Their very purpose is to succeed.
And then we come to the person behind the athlete.
As Biles reminds us, she is not just a GOAT – Greatest Of All Time.
Away from the cameras, social media, the mats and vaults, role model, athlete and advocate Biles is human, too. She will have a long life after gymnastics, and she needs to protect it.