Harristes reflect on Simone Biles’ statement on mental health and athletics following her decision to withdraw from the Olympics

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Perhaps the biggest headline in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this year was US gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to drop out of the competition after her first event of the All Around Team Competition. Her decision has sparked broader conversation on the impact of mental wellbeing, not only in sports but for all individuals. In light of this development, Harrisites and the Townsend Harris Physical Education Department have weighed on Biles’ decision and its significance to them.

Often lauded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles has been the face of US gymnastics for the past few years. As such, the announcement came with great surprise, and controversy. However, Biles has remained resilient, citing that her mental health caused a gymnastics phenomenon called the “twisties,” which is a condition of mental dissociation that hinders the athlete’s ability to execute a stunt and places them at risk of an injury. “We’re going to take it a day at a time and see what happens,” she said in an interview with NBC’s Hoda Kotb. The stress and pressure the Olympics bring to such a high demand athlete caused her to take a step back. “I have to focus on my mental health.”

Dean and Physical Education teacher Robin Figelman said she supports Biles’ decision. “I think that as an athlete myself that if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to compete and then I would put myself in jeopardy I would definitely bail out and take care of my mental health first,” she said.

Assistant Principal of Physical Education Ellen Fee, though acknowledging that it may be of competitive interest to win, said sometimes the bravest course of action is to heed your own feelings and take a moment to recollect yourself. “For her to take a step back to make sure that the pressure didn’t harm her was really courageous,” she said. “There are a lot of times where there’s pressure from the outside world, whether it’s athletics or academics or anything else. When striving becomes a negative force in your life, that’s when it becomes harmful. I see that a lot at Townsend Harris.”

Rising senior and soccer player Zuzanna Kowalski said, “You could fall out of love with your sport if you’re not prioritizing your mental health then you’re not enjoying what you’re doing.” Being an athlete herself, Zuzanna said the love for your sport should allow you to realize that it’s necessary to give yourself time to prevent yourself from burning out.

Karen Lin, a rising sophomore and volleyball player, said, “I know that a lot of people say that it’s controversial because she might let down her teammates, but I think it was a good idea because she was prioritizing something that she finds very important to her and I think it’s a good message to fellow athletes.”

Where this may have seemed to be the end of Biles’ Tokyo 2020 Olympic journey, she decided to step back in for the balance beam event in which she won bronze.