Alice Liveing on the importance of Simone speaking about mental health

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Photo credit: Fred Lee
Photo credit: Fred Lee

Simone Biles made headlines across the world when she decided to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics to protect her mental health.

After she completed her opening vault in the women's gymnastics team final on Tuesday, a visibly upset Biles exited the competition. When asked if she was physically injured later on, the former Olympic champion replied: "No. Just a little injury to my pride."

"After the performance I did, I just didn't want to go on," she continued. "I have to focus on my mental health."

“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events second-guessing myself, so I thought it was better if I took a step back and let these girls go out there and do the job, and they did just that,” Biles said. “I was struggling with some things.”

The athlete then elaborated on how it's important to talk about mental health. "I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now... we have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.

"I don't trust myself as much anymore... maybe it's getting older. There were a couple of days when everybody tweets you and you feel the weight of the world."

Biles' decision to protect her mental health in this way was not fully met with the support she deserves. Many took to social media to criticise the US gymnast and Piers Morgan accused the athlete of "letting her team mates down."

Yet despite the negative criticism, many people took to social media to congratulate the gymnast for speaking up - fitness instructor and wellness influencer Alice Liveing among them. "We need to talk about how female athletes are treated in sport," she wrote on Twitter. "Simone Biles, arguably the best gymnast of all time pulling out of an event because she recognised she wasn't able to compete. If she'd hurt herself physically you KNOW the narrative would be different."

"WHY is it that we still aren't recognising the mental strain of being out on a pedestal as the best in your sport," she continued. "Our mind controls what our body achieves. That's not speculation, that's science."

The Instagram activist, who has just launched an app called Give Me Strength, spoke about the immense pressure facing Simone."One small mistake could cost you your career," she says. Biles' decision, Alice argued in the post, "takes such strength as an athlete."

Alice added the backlash Simone has received "reeks of misogyny" as "women are consistently treated differently in sport, and this is another example to add to list. It stinks."

And what Alice finds so frustrating is how physical health is - at times - taken far more seriously than mental health. As a personal trainer, she's acutely aware of how mental health can affect performance and spoke about this on a call with Cosmopolitan. "There'll be days when I come to the gym, and my mind isn't there, and I'm so not in it and can't hit my PB. I strip the weight back, because I know that I'll probably hurt myself," she tells us, adding she fully understands Bile's decision for this reason.

"The mind controls what the body does..." she says. "When will we recognise that mental/physical health cannot be separated? They are one, and they both matter equally. Having one without the other doesn't make the athlete."

With so much pressure on Simone's shoulders, Alice feels strongly that her decision is nothing but courageous. "She's got all the eyes of the world looking at her and expecting her to be the best," she explains on the phone. "It's just not possible for one person to deal with. And clearly on that day, yesterday, it was too much. I think it took courage and it took guts for her to say 'I can't do this.'"

It's so important that conversations like this continue surrounding mental health, and in this instance, Simone has done a lot to further the important talking point. "If every athlete put their head down and got on with it when they're struggling, we wouldn't be having these conversations," explains Alice.

We just hope Biles' painful - and incredibly brave - decision to tap out, and speak out, will be a lesson to take the mental health of sportswomen more seriously.

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