NORTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The weight of perfection takes a toll on anyone, even athletes competing at the very peak of their sport.
U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles is now shining a light on the importance of mental health for athletes after she surprisingly withdrew from team competition in Japan.
Biles is the most decorated American gymnast and renowned worldwide as the greatest of all time. But on Tuesday, her message was that no matter the situation, mental health comes first.
Gymnastics is a high-flying, fast-paced sport of precision and coordination that, according to Division III national champion Amanda Carney, is just as much mental as it is physical.
“Gymnastics is 50-50,” she said. “Yes, you need to be like strong and flexible, but also you have to have mental strength and capacity to learn new things, to take in the technique of new things, and then convince yourself you can do this.”
That mental aspect of the sport apparently took its toll on Biles.
“It’s been a long week, it’s been a long Olympic process, it’s been a long year” Biles said.
For Carney, the sport of gymnastics means so much more than just winning medals.
“I think there’s more to it than just one competition. Yes, it’s the biggest one, but I think that they don’t do it for one competition,” Carney said. “I don’t even think they do it for competitions and winning most of the time. It’s more just, they do it because they love it.”
Lily Goulding is currently competing collegiately and said the sport can be grueling, adding that that her heart goes out to Biles.
“It’s so much pressure, and sometimes that goes too far,” Goulding said. “It’s definitely so hard. So many people do look up to [Biles] and they think that she is the best, she’s the greatest.”
For Goulding and many of her teammates, gymnastics are an escape.
“It’s so different. It’s a way to get out of everything, kind of de-stress and just come to it,” she said.
They’re also a passion, according to Goulding.
“It’s a lot of work, it is stressful, but it’s so exciting to go out there and be able to show off everything you do in practice,” Goulding added.
Carney, who also coaches at O’Leary’s Gymnastics, said the sport also takes sacrifice.
“A lot of them miss a lot of life events, school dances, prom, sleepovers, just to do the sport that they love, so it means a lot,” Carney said. “It requires a lot of strength, a lot of mental strength, but, I mean, the girls were just built a little differently, they persevere and they’re amazing, honestly.”