The 2021 Tokyo Olympics didn’t go as planned for Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka, but both athletes have used their international platform to promote a conversation that’s more important than a medal: speaking out on the importance of athletes protecting and prioritizing their mental health.
Despite entering the Tokyo Games as a gold medal favorite in nearly every event, Biles walked away with just her team silver and a bronze on the balance beam. She made the difficult decision to withdraw herself from the team competition, the all-around and the majority of her individual events for her own mental health after coming down with a case of what gymnasts refer to as “the twisties,” which causes them to lose their position in the air on complex jumps and can lead to devastating injury.
On the biggest stage in the world, with one of the biggest targets in Olympic history on her back, it had to have been an agonizing decision. But it’s one Biles told ET’s Nischelle Turner she remains “content” with.
“Obviously, there are still a lot of feels and emotions behind it, but as far as my Olympic experience goes, it was very unique and there is nothing like it,” she said while sitting down with her U.S. Gymnastics teammates on Wednesday, ahead of their nationwide Gold Over America Tour. “I believe everything happens for a reason, so I wouldn’t take it back for the world.”
Osaka was also in the spotlight in Tokyo, after withdrawing from several tennis tournaments leading up to the Olympics — also citing the importance of prioritizing her mental health and speaking out against her sport’s policy of requiring athletes to participate in press conferences in order to compete. She represented Japan in the Games, and lit the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. But when it came to the court, the No.2-ranked player in the world fell short, losing in the third round and going home without a medal.
However, the four-time Grand Slam winner made a point to reach out to Biles after the gymnast went public with her decision to withdraw from most of her planned Olympic events.
“She was actually really sweet and she reached out,” Biles told ET. “I was so overwhelmed, so I didn’t get the chance to respond, but I had so many people reach out and she was just so sweet.”
It’s a conversation that’s sure to continue post-Olympics. On Tuesday, Osaka teared up during her press conference ahead of her first match at the Western & Southern Open, and had to briefly leave the room before returning and apologizing to reporters.
“She is speaking up about mental health, and I think it is really important that athletes put their mental health first,” Biles said, “because, at the end of the day, that is what is going to determine how well we go out there and compete in whatever sport that is.”
“I think now that it is a leading topic of conversation, it is really helpful, because at the end of the day, we are athletes and it is our craft, but we are human too,” she added.
The Gold Over America Tour kicks off Sept. 21 at the Tucson Arena in Tucson, Arizona. Click here for tickets, and see more from Biles and her teammates in the video below.
Simone Biles and Team USA Champions Talk ‘Gold Over America Tour’ and Reflect on Tokyo (Exclusive)
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