USA's Simone Biles with teammates after finishing second of the artistic gymnastics women's team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Picture: AFP
USA's Simone Biles with teammates after finishing second of the artistic gymnastics women's team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Picture: AFP

Simone Biles’s withdrawal from Olympics shows immense pressure athletes are under

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jul 27, 2021

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USA gymnastics superstar Simone Biles withdrew from the team final because of a 'medical issue' after one event following a shock error on vault that resulted in her lowest score in years.

The 24-year-old, who had been expected to lead the US to gold in the team event, was withdrawn from the lineup after her vault in the opening minutes of the team final competition in Tokyo.

USA Gymnastics released a statement blaming the decision on a “medical issue” while noting that Biles would be “assessed for competitiveness” before the individual finals.

Her decision to pull out of the competition comes just days after she opened up about her struggle to cope with the pressure of this year's Olympics.

The gymnastics superstar is no stranger at making history: earlier this year, she became the first-ever female gymnast to perform the risky and complicated Yurchenko double pike vault, stunned spectators when she made an uncharacteristic error in the team final, bailing out of the skill she had planned to do while in mid-air.

Mental health among high performing stars seems to be prevalent with many choosing their mental health over trophies.

Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open saying she gets "huge waves of anxiety" when dealing with press. The 23-year-old tennis ace was fined $15 000 for skipping a post-match press conference, and then pulled out of the tournament altogether when she was threatened with expulsion.

"I get really nervous and find it stressful to always engage and give you the best answers I can," Osaka, who is currently the number two female tennis player in the world, wrote on Instagram. "So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences."

Osaka feels her mental health break made it harder to deal with being the face of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

She also admitted to herself and the watching world that she was blinded by stepping back into the limelight.

When asked whether pressure played a role in her recent defeat, she said: “Yes and no.

Globally, mental health professionals predict that the pandemic is going to impact significantly on the mental health of the population with an increase in cases of depression, suicide, and self-harm due to Covid-19, and other related symptoms reported internationally.

A study conducted by the Indian Psychiatric Society showed a 20% increase in mental illnesses since the coronavirus outbreak in India. A meta-analysis on mental health and Covid-19 among the general population in China estimates the prevalence of anxiety to be around 31.9%, and depression around 33.7%.

Dr Kagisho Maaroganye, psychiatrist and public sector national convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) encourages persons who experience the early signs of psychological distress like insomnia, irritability and lack of interest in pleasurable activities or even self-care, seek help from professionals.

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