Simone Biles said on Monday the mental health concerns that led to her dramatic withdrawal from several events at the Tokyo Olympics had begun before she even arrived in Japan.
The US gymnastics superstar caused a sensation at the Olympics last month after pulling out of the team final competition before later withdrawing from the individual all-around competition.
Biles, 24, regarded by many as the greatest gymnast of all time and who had been strongly tipped to win multiple gold medals in Japan, said she had withdrawn in order to prioritise her mental health.
In a video conversation with her mother released by sponsors Athleta on Monday, Biles said her problems had built up over time.
“I wouldn’t even say it started in Tokyo. I feel like it was probably a little bit deeper-rooted than that,” Biles said.
“I think it was just the stress factor. It kind of built up over time, and my body and my mind just said no. But even I didn’t know I was going through it until it just happened.”
Biles was plagued by an attack of the “twisties” in Tokyo – a potentially dangerous phenomenon that causes gymnasts to lose their sense of direction when in the air. She later returned to the Olympic arena to compete in the balance beam final, where she won a bronze.
Biles said while she was disappointed not to be able to deliver her usual gravity-defying form on the biggest stage of all – she had no regrets about putting her health and safety first.
“It just sucks. Like, train five years, it doesn’t go the way you wanted,” Biles said in the video. “But I know that I helped a lot of people and athletes speak out about mental health and saying no. Because I knew I couldn’t go out there and compete. I knew I was going to get hurt.”
Biles added she had been surprised by the broadly supportive reaction to her withdrawal from competition in Tokyo.
“I obviously was expecting to feel a lot of backlash and embarrassment,” she said. “But it’s the complete opposite. That’s the first time I felt human. Besides Simone Biles, I was Simone, and people kind of respected that.”
The Texan said she hopes now her case will encourage others to ask for help if they are concerned about their mental health.
“I know it’s not easy, but it really is helpful,” she said. “And I know most of the time you’re scared you might feel dumb. But as I have learned over the years, it’s OK to ask for help.”