Swimming superstar Michael Phelps is showing his support for Simone Biles after the gold medal-winning gymnast decided to withdraw herself from the team and all-around competitions at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health.
If there’s anyone who could understand the pressure Biles felt as the star of the Summer Games, it’s the most decorated Olympian in history.
In an interview with NBC’s Mike Tirico, Phelps said it broke his heart when he learned Biles was struggling and pointed out the pandemic has put mental health more people’s minds.
“You know, we carry a lot of weight on our shoulders and it’s challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all these expectations that are being thrown on top of us,” said Phelps. “It broke my heart. But also, if you look at it, mental health over the past 18 months is something that people are talking about.”
Phelps said "it’s OK to not be OK" because we’re all humans at the end of the day.
“I think the biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help sometimes too when we go through those times. For me, I can say personally, it was something that was very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help. I felt like I was carrying, like Simone said, the weight of the world on your shoulders,” said Phelps. “So, it’s a tough situation.”
The 36-year-old said he hopes Biles’ story puts a spotlight on mental health issues, particularly among athletes.
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience. I really do. I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine.”
Phelps isn’t the only Olympian to speak out in support of Biles. Five-time Olympic medal gymnast Nastia Liukin did as well and she helped explain what happened to Biles on the vault before she dropped out of the team finals on Tuesday.
“In talking to her, she did the right thing,” said Liukin. “You know, she really wanted to focus on the team, and I think when you actually take a look at what happened on that vault, she got lost and any gymnast knows – we call it the twisties – and she basically was supposed to do a whole other rotation and got completely lost in the air. It’s a mental kind of error, essentially, that every single gymnast goes through.”
She said getting lost in the air does happen often with gymnasts.
“The level of difficulty that she competes at is so high and if you are not 100% sure of yourself and where you are in the air, it can be very dangerous.”
As for what’s next for Biles, USA Gymnastics says the 24-year-old athlete will be evaluated daily to determine whether or not she will participate in next week’s individual event finals.
Gymnast Jade Carey, who had the ninth-highest score in qualifications, will participate in her place in the all-around competition on Thursday.