Simone Biles Breaks Her Silence Since Announcing Her Withdrawal from Tokyo Olympics

Simone Biles
Simone Biles.Getty

The Olympic gymnast thanked those who have joined an "outpouring of love and support."

Simone Biles has taken to social media for the first time since announcing her withdrawal from individual and all-around gymnastic events at the Tokyo Olympics.

She thanked those who have sent messages of support, saying "it has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments."

The 24-year-old athletic superstar, the most accomplished gymnast of her generation, came to Tokyo as the most famous contender in the 2021 Summer Olympics after sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps announced their retirements. 

But a disappointing vault performance on Monday, in which she completed one-and-a-half twists instead of two-and-a half, left her rattled and unsure of her mental fitness. She lost her mental bearings in mid-air and experienced the "twisties," she explained — both of which could have seriously injured her.

The "twisties" is a gymnastic term referring to a dreaded experience that can happen while executing elaborate twists in midair while upside down. Muscle memory evaporates and the athlete becomes disoriented while simultaneously trying to mentally execute every movement needed to land.

Former gymnast Catherine Burns explained the phenomena this way: "It's terrifying. You're moving way too fast, you're totally lost, you're trying to THINK but you know you don't usually have to think to do these maneuvers, you just feel them and do them," she wrote on Twitter.

As a comparison, she wrote, "Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car. You have to focus on making you foot press the pedal at the right angle, turn the steering wheel just so, shift gears," Burns said.

Biles removed herself from the team after that performance, citing her mental health. She then withdrew from Thursday's individual all-around competition. 

An avalanche of good will followed, with fans, gymnasts, Olympic medalists and Michelle Obama applauding the gold medal winner for tending to her own needs instead of jeopardizing her body and her mental health.

After the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team won the Silver Medal Monday, 18-year-old Sunisa Lee won the Gold Medal for all-around performance, making her the first Hmong American to capture Olympic gold.

Biles cheered from the sidelines with the rest of the team.

Strug and Moceanu were part of "The Magnificent Seven" U.S. Olympic gymnastic team that won gold in Atlanta in 1996. Strug performed a famous vault with a severely injured ankle that ended with her landing on one foot and then collapsing in agony. Moceanu, at age 14, competed with a stress fracture in her leg and then took a horrific fall on the balance beam, landing on her head.

In recent years, the sport has suffered greatly under the accusations of young female gymnasts who said they had been abused and denied food during alleged harsh training practices conducted by Béla Károlyi and Márta Károlyi, who defected from communist Romania in 1981 after the Olympic success of their protégé Nadia Comaneci. 

For decades, several gymnasts said the couple conducted grueling Olympic training sessions at the Károlyi ranch. In 2018, USA Gymnastics cut all ties with the facility. The couple denied abusing or mistreating any of the athletes they trained. 

In of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in sports history, scores of gymnasts, including Moceanu and Biles, came forward to accuse USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assaulting them under the guise of treatment. He was sentenced, in 2017 and 2018, to more than 100 years in prison on federal child pornography charges and on state charges of sexual assault.

He pleaded guilty in Michigan in 2018 to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. At the sentencing, 156 athlete victims spoke, testifying they went to Nassar for treatment of sports injuries but were sexually assaulted and told it was a form of treatment.

“I’ve just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said in a Lansing courtroom. “I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger. That you remain a danger.” Many of his accusers said the assaults happened at Korolyi Ranch. The Karolyis were not implicated by authorities who investigated the assaults.

Gold-medal-winning gymnast Nastia Liukin also took to social media this week to thank Biles for her courage and  "epitomizing what the next generation of role models should be."

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