Simone Biles displays courage, strength in Tokyo Olympics

To replicate the pressure that comes with hundreds of millions of eyes watching you at all times, all of them anticipating and demanding one thing; gold, is an impossible feat. It is a pressure so immense that very few will ever experience it and completely understand it. For 19-time world champion gymnast Simone Biles, this pressure and expectation to be at your absolute best at all times is a daily occurrence and reminder of what’s so demandingly expected of her. The weight of the entire world on your shoulders can be a very heavy weight at times, and a weight that no amount of experience can eliminate. Heading into her second Olympic games looking even better than she had when she won 5 medals in 2016, the pressure on Simone Biles to live up to the golden expectations was evident.

In the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles had dominated the last quad of gymnastics competition. Winning nine world championship titles between the Rio Olympics and the games that would take place in 2021, it was clear that Simone Biles’ dominance in the sport of gymnastics was far from over, and the world knew it.

Headlines reading, “Eyes Will Be On Simone Biles in Tokyo And For Good Reason,” or “Simone Biles, on the Cusp of Olympic Glory” combined with social media demands for gold in the leadup to the games, and poor team management in which USA Gymnastics made their reliance on Simone to bring home gold clear, only added to the dense pressure that had built up among Simone’s successes in the last decade.

As powerful as pressure can be as a fuel, it can also prove to be detrimental to performance. After arriving in Tokyo, Simone Biles competed in the qualification round, qualifying first to the all around final, and qualifying to all six of the finals available to her. With Simone’s success in the qualification round, the pressure to live up to the general public’s standards in finals only escalated. This pressure coupled with a fast-paced training schedule in Tokyo caused Simone to develop a dangerous mental block, known as “the twisties.”

In essence, the twisties is a disconnect between a gymnast’s mind and body in which the athlete tells its body to do one thing, and its body does another. This can prove very dangerous, especially at the high level that Simone performs at, in which she could ultimately “get lost ” 10 feet in the air, falling to the ground at a fast pace, likely ending in extreme injury.

Despite developing this mental block, Biles attempted to continue training in preparation for the finals. Heading into the team finals, Biles was slated to compete in all four events for Team USA. Beginning on the vault, Biles made her way down the runway and completed her entry onto the vaulting table as usual, before disaster struck in the air mid-flip. Due to her twisties mental block, Simone balked on her vault, only completing 1.5 twists instead of her usual 2.5, leaving her with a good 5 feet to fall without twisting, the crowd only hoping she can find a way to land safely.

Due to her extreme athleticism and intelligence as an athlete, Simone was able to put the vault to her feet, a feat unfathomable to most other gymnasts. However, for the safety of herself and her team, Simone made the courageous decision to withdraw from the remainder of the team final and four of her upcoming individual finals.

This left Simone with one individual final remaining, the last final of the game for women’s artistic gymnastics, the balance beam final. With just about a week between her scary experience in the team final and the balance beam final, Simone spent time in the training gyms in Tokyo, working with her coaches to reconstruct a beam routine that would be safe for her to compete with in the final. Simone made her efforts to work through her mental block which can often take weeks to solve, all while facing a mix of harsh backlash and loving support from the world via social media, and dealing with the sudden death of a close family member.

 For the balance beam final, Simone competed her reconstructed routine with ease and to near perfection, enough to win a bronze medal. While it may not be the gold that Simone and many others had anticipated coming into Tokyo, there’s no doubt that this bronze is one of Simone’s most important medals to her.

Laying a precedent for prioritizing mental health in athletes, and working through the obstacles she faced in Tokyo, Biles proved yet again why she is a hero and inspiration to so many. While many say this may mark the end of her competitive career, there is no doubt that Biles’ imprint will be left on athletics worldwide. The world should remember her career not just for her many gold medals, but also for her courageous act to prioritize her own wellbeing in the Tokyo Olympic Games.