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Simone Biles’ former trainer has said that outside pressure has felt ‘like a weighted vest’ on the gymnast, following her decision to withdraw from the team and individual all-around finals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Biles explained yesterday that she made the decision to pull out of the women’s team final to focus on her mental health after feeling she was not in the right mindset to perform safely.
While viewers and pundits have spent the past 24 hours speculating on the reasons behind her struggling to cope with the pressure, some of those who have previously worked with Biles have also been weighing in on the situation.
Among them was her former coach Robert Andrews, who told CNN that he believed that Biles had been facing a ‘tremendous toll psychologically and emotionally’.
The former coach, who acknowledged that he had not spoken to Biles in three years and so was only able to give his opinion, said he believed that the delay to the games, the ongoing sex abuse scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics – of which Biles was herself a survivor – and being designated ‘the greatest’ had conspired to build intense pressure on her shoulders, as had her status as a high-profile Black athlete.
‘[It’s like] a weighted vest on her. She has to live up to that, manage the stress and distractions, and try to prepare for the Olympic games,’ he said, adding that the difficulties faced by athletes at the Olympics with the absence of their families and crowds would also likely have contributed.
‘It was basically a perfect storm, and when the stress levels get high enough, the brain just goes ‘there’s too much interference, there’s too much going on, I’m just going to shut it down’,’ Andrews said, adding that he was ‘really proud’ of Biles for making the ‘courageous’ decision to prioritise her mental health.
Biles’ withdrawal came just days after she admitted in a candid post on Instagram that the pressure and expectation leading up to the Olympics had felt like ‘the weight of the world on my shoulders at times’.
‘I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard,’ she wrote.
Speaking to the press following US team’s silver medal achievement, Biles said that ‘there is more to life than just gymnastics’, adding, ‘We are people at the end of the day, so we have to focus on that.’
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