TOKYO — Simone Biles feels the love.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist took to Twitter on Thursday to express her gratitude for the support she’s received since withdrawing from the team and all-around competitions.
“The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” Biles said, adding a silver heart emoji to the post.
Biles has been widely praised by fellow gymnasts, other Olympic athletes and mental health experts for her decision to withdraw from Tuesday night’s team competition after one event, saying she wasn’t in a good headspace and was concerned for her physical safety. She had balked on her Amanar vault, stopping twisting midway through and dropping to the ground.
Biles landed low, almost on her knees. But she easily could have landed on her head or neck.
Mental health issues have affected Biles’ performance before, including in the leadup to the 2016 Olympics. But the expectations on her for Tokyo, where she was projected to win a record five gold medals, and the accompanying spotlight have exacerbated her unease.
She made several significant errors, uncharacteristic of her, during qualifying Sunday, and said she was so unsettled before the team final that she was shaking and unable to sleep.
“This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself. I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people,” Biles said after the team final. “That just hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
Athletes are increasingly talking about the importance of mental health, and the toxic impact the focus on performance and results can have. Swimmer Michael Phelps has made this his mission since his retirement, and said he hopes Biles’ decision will remind athletes – and everyone else – that they are more than their medals.
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do,” Phelps said Wednesday on NBC. “I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open.”