FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Simone Biles withdrew from the individual all-around final at the Tokyo Olympics just 24 hours after pulling out of the team event, sparking an intense debate.
Her decision to prioritize her mental health at the height of competition has been both celebrated and criticized.
“I support Simone Biles and her decision 100 percent, and I think her team does as well,” said Lilian Gaynor, a mom of two students at Flawless Gymnastics in Fort Worth. “You can’t please everyone, but you have to do what’s right for you in that time and in that moment, and I think that’s what she’s doing and we should all support her in that. She’s still always going to be our champion.”
The move has forced some difficult conversations for gymnastics coaches and parents.
“My first reaction, I was shocked,” said Perseus Carter, owner and coach at Flawless Gymnastics. “I tell the kids, the one thing you want to do, if you can, at all costs, stick with your team till the very end.”
Carter says you have to help students find a balance between pushing through challenges and recognizing their limits.
Biles says she withdrew from competition to protect herself from injury because she wasn’t in the right head space. In gymnastics, a small mistake or an off day can have catastrophic consequences.
“One second of not thinking can cost you a lot,” Carter said. “Can cost you an arm, can cost you a finger, or cost you your life.”
A wide range of celebrities and athletes immediately came out in support of Biles’ decision, but many of her critics accused her of letting down her team and her country.
The Texas Deputy Attorney General for Legal Strategy Aaron Reitz even called her a “selfish, childish national embarrassment” in a tweet that has since been deleted.
“Nobody should be mean to her,” said talk radio show host Mark Davis. “No one should belittle mental health issues. No one is doing that. But this is a weird one, and it needs to be okay for people to wonder what in the world happened.”
Davis found himself in the middle of a firestorm after sharing his take on the issue.
“Anyone daring to say that sometimes you just have to push through it, gut up and do what what’s expected of you – oh God help anybody that says that,” he said. “That instantly became horribly cruel.”
No matter what, Biles will go down in history as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
“I would tell people to take a step back, and look at the individual outside of the athlete,” said Carter, calling for others to have compassion for whatever she’s going through.
Individual contests in the Olympics begin Sunday.
It’s unclear if Biles will compete.