SAN DIEGO – The executive director of San Diego Gymnastics says she and her gymnasts were inspired Tuesday by American star Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the women’s gymnastics team final competition in the Tokyo Olympics.
Biles, 24, withdrew from the competition following one rotation, opening the door for the team of Russian athletes to win gold for the first time in nearly three decades. Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum guided the U.S. to silver while Biles cheered from the sideline in a white sweatsuit, at peace with a decision that revealed a shift not only in Biles but perhaps the sport she’s redefined.
“I woke up this morning and I was completely shocked,” Paige Conroy of San Diego Gymnastics said. “In the morning, we didn’t have a lot of information. Saw that she dropped out because of medical issues and then things slowly started to surface that it was mental.
“Mental health is something that is being more talked about now and to see someone like Simone Biles take the lead on it, it was kind of inspiring, really. My gymnasts feel the same way.”
Biles is the latest in a series of high-profile athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka, who have used their platforms to discuss their mental heath struggles. A subject that was once taboo has become far more accepted and embraced.
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland applauded Biles for prioritizing her “mental wellness over all else” and offered the organization’s full support. USA Gymnastics women’s program vice-president called Biles’ act “incredibly selfless.”
“When you get to that moment, her whole life has been gymnastics,” Conroy said. “She’s really focused on these events and really just putting everything into that one moment she’s going through. She even put on her Instagram the day before that she felt the weight of the world was on her shoulders and I couldn’t even imagine having that feeling. You have the support of the whole world looking at you. It’s stressful.”
When San Diego Gymnastics opened more than a decade ago, Conroy said it came with a mindset of developing a “healthy balance” for athletes. The decision ultimately breaks with some of the stigmas of the sport by prioritizing both learning and fun.
“We want them to learn everything that gymnastics has, but it’s also more,” she said. “It’s learning confidence, balance. Everything that goes into that is what we’re all about at San Diego Gymnastics.”
Through it all, they remain “huge Simone Biles supporters,” according to Conroy.
“We love everything she has to offer,” she said. “We’ve supported her since day one. You probably seen after she made this decision, she decided to go help her teammates get chalk. She was supporting them. She didn’t just go hide behind the stands and cry about it. She showed up.”
She added: “A lot of people can say gymnastics is just an individual sport, but it is a team sport. We encourage that within our gymnasts as well and we’ve been telling parents this message all along.”