Everyone sees Olympians as the cream of the crop. The most talented. The most fearless. The most invincible. Unfortunately, as shown through recent events, this is not the case. Though Olympians may put on a brave face to show on television, they battle “demons” when off the screen. What kind of demons you may ask? Mental health demons. Demons that make them doubt years of work. Demons that make them fail to recall everything you’ve trained for. Demons that make them forget who they are.
One of the most recent and most prominent Olympians who was influenced by these “demons” is Team USA gymnast, Simone Biles. Biles was set to compete in the Tokyo Olympics and perform an Amanar, a complex vault skill. However, during warmups Biles chose to bail out of it and go with a simpler stunt which she stumbled on. This rare stumble for Biles was followed by her withdrawal from the competition. The reason for this withdrawal? Her mental health. Considered the best gymnast of all time, Simone Biles had the weight of the world on her shoulders when heading into this competition. This weight is more significant considering that she is a woman of color, setting the expectations for her higher than most. The pressure on Biles caused her to get the “twisties:” a strange occurrence where a gymnast is unable to perform a skill that has been practiced thousands of times before. Therefore, for her own good and for the team’s good, Biles chose to withdraw. Shortly following this announcement, Biles was faced with a burst of support. Other olympians and celebrities from all over the world showed their support on social media. Biles’ sponsors, including Visa and Athleta, had her back and claimed that they were “ inspired by her leadership”(Athleta). By taking a break from the world’s biggest athletic competition, Simone Biles has shown the depth that athletes possess as leaders, role models, and regular people.
Biles isn’t the only Olympian who has struggled with her mental health. In fact, Biles says she was inspired to focus on her mental health by Japanese tennis sensation, Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open and skipped Wimbledon earlier this year for similar reasons. Perhaps the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, also revealed his battle with depression and substance abuse prior to Rio 2016. Another accomplished swimmer, Missy Franklin, was diagnosed with depression, insomnia, anxiety and an eating disorder prior to Rio 2016. Lindsey Vonn, a skier with multiple awards to her name, was plagued with depression since 2002 but only came forward about it in 2012.
It is clear that mental health issues have impacted some of America’s most prestigious Olympians. Though it was once a taboo topic, mental health issues are finally receiving the attention they deserve, as well as the support they deserve. With the entire world’s weight on their shoulders, Olympians are finally coming forward and telling the world that it’s ok to not be ok.