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Simone Biles pulls out of Olympic team event over mental pressure to be greatest gymnast in history: 'I have to do what was right for me'

Simone Biles reacts with teammates after finishing second in the artistic gymnastics women's team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 27. (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

World-famous American gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of Olympic team competition after it had started Tuesday over mental pressure and stress stemming from being the greatest gymnast in history, she told the New York Times.

Her exit helped pave the way for Russia to win the gold medal, "ending American domination of the event for more than a decade," the Times added.

Not in the right place mentally

Biles also told the paper she wasn't in the right place mentally to perform her difficult and often dangerous skills after feeling so much pressure to be successful. She added to the Times that she had been struggling with the stress of being the greatest gymnast in history, and outside expectations were simply too difficult to overcome.

Prior to Tuesday's event, Biles told the paper that she started "fighting all of those demons" and couldn't keep them at bay.

The paper said Russia finished with a total score of 169.528, more than three points ahead of Team USA, which won silver, at 166.096; Britain won the bronze medal with a score of 164.096.

'I have to do what was right for me'

"At the end of the day, I have to do what was right for me," she also noted to the Times before noting that "it just sucks that it happened at the Olympic Games."

After the competition, Biles said at a press conference that "I say put mental health first because if you don't then you're not gonna enjoy your sport, and you're not gonna succeed as much as you want to. So it's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are rather than just battle through it."

'Put mental health first': Simone Biles reacts to exit from Olympic team gymnastics finalyoutu.be

Biles told the Times she was uncertain if she would step back into competition at the Tokyo Olympics, beginning with the all-around final Thursday, which is an individual competition.

More from the Times:

One day after its men's team won the Olympic gold medal, the Russian team's women executed its challenging routines with precision and grace, and the U.S. team simply could not keep up. It didn't help the Americans' confidence that it came into the final trying to bounce back from a second-place finish to Russia in qualifying.

During that qualification on Sunday, Biles and some of her teammates made uncharacteristic mistakes because they were nervous. Biles stumbled on her balance beam dismount, taking a huge step and several tiny ones backward. On the floor exercise, she stepped so far out of bounds that she slid down the edge of the slanted, raised competition surface. On vault, she stepped off the mat after landing.

How are folks reacting?

According to the Associated Press, the USA Gymnastics women's program vice president called Biles' decision to pull out of competition "incredibly selfless." Biles did note in the press conference that she didn't want to hamper things for her teammates by performing when she wasn't at her best.

And it's still early, but it seems most of the commenters on the Times' story so far are applauding Biles' decision:

  • "Bravo, Simone!" one commenter wrote. "You just set an amazing example for millions of people worldwide that it's okay to step back when you need it!"
  • "I'm glad she had the good sense to listen to herself and the strength to act on it," another commenter said. "She's still the GOAT, and I commend her."
  • "I wish her all the best. She does indeed have to do what's right for her," another commenter wrote. "I hope she takes whatever time and recreation she needs."

But there was criticism, too:

  • "It's becoming more and more common to take 'mental breaks' in the middle of competition these days. I thought that is what competition was all about otherwise just go practice at the local park district," another commenter said. "This goes to show what great focus[ed] competitors like Jordan, McEnroe, and Mary Lou Retton were."
  • "Wow, can't believe she quit on the biggest stage in the world. She quit on her teammates as well. Can't sugarcoat this," another commenter wrote. "She's going to become the meme for quitting when things get tough."
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