Simone Biles renews mental health conversation in athletics after withdrawing from Olympic team competition

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:41 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - U.S. Gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world when she withdrew from the Olympics team competition Tuesday.

She later revealed she had been struggling with mental health issues.

After performing on vault, Biles withdrew from the Olympic Team Competition, saying after the competition that she needed to focus on her mental health.

“If I was her I would have did the same thing,” said Dr. Rochelle Stevens, Gold Medal Olympic winner.

Stevens is a Memphian and two time Olympic Gold and Silver medalist in track and field. She says on top of immense pressure to perform, Biles is also facing added stress from a global pandemic and other unseen forces.

“Competing as a world-class athlete, we were told at an early age or at the beginning of your career that it is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Stevens said.

The Memphis Rotary Club welcomed world-class professional golfers, born and raised in Memphis, days before the start of the FedEx St. Jude World Golf Championship, like Shaun Micheel, who surprised the world when he won the 2003 PGA Championship.

“For me to have that as my first win, I fully didn’t know what to do, how I was going to be able to one up that,” Micheel said. “And I tried for a long time. It became a very solitary world. I started doing practice rounds alone.”

Micheel says professional athletes are just like every other person dealing with everyday pressure and stress that is not known to the public.

“And I struggled,” Micheel said. “But I kept a lot of that internal. And I still do to this day. I mean, there are things that I look back on, that I was like, maybe I should have sought maybe a little bit better counseling.”

Sports science experts like Dr. Max Paquette, a University of Memphis associate professor in the College of Health Sciences and a former Olympic trials finalist in Steeplechase, hope Biles’ example helps change the outlook of mental health in athletics.

“Yes, awareness but hopefully the change comes from leadership of parents and coaches who see this as an education opportunity for young athletes,” Paquette said.

Biles says she will take things one day at a time to determine if she will perform in the Olympic gymnastics individual competition.

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