The reason Simone Biles quit was more heartbreaking than we could've ever imagined
Simone Biles deserved to quit a long time ago. In a cover story for The Cut published Monday, Biles opened up about her decision to pull out of competition at the Olympics, an unexpected move that caused shockwaves throughout the sports world. Most notably, the story traces a clear line between her stepping away from the sport and the trauma of sexual abuse she experienced from former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
“If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team," Biles told the magazine. "I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. It was too much. But I was not going to let him take something I’ve worked for since I was 6 years old. I wasn’t going to let him take that joy away from me. So I pushed past that for as long as my mind and my body would let me."
For Biles, the breaking point for her mind and body occurred early on in the Tokyo Games, when she suddenly experienced the “twisties,” an utterly destabilizing loss of all spatial awareness that puts a gymnast in serious peril.
“Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can’t see shit, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight,” Biles explains in the interview, partially responding to critics who accused her of simply giving up at the Games. “You’d be lost, wouldn’t you?”
Biles’s greater battle moving forward, though, is not as an athlete, but as a person — not with a physical sensation, but with the painful aftermath as an abuse survivor. “This will probably be something I work through for 20 years,” she said. “No matter how much I try to forget. It’s a work in progress.” (Last week, Biles gave a tearful testimony during a Senate hearing over the investigation into Nassar's crimes.) These startlingly brave revelations recontextualize her choice to step back, as well as our culture’s myopic expectations of star athletes.
Amid the overwhelming support for Biles’s decision to prioritize her own physical and mental health over medals, there has also been criticism around a common refrain for athletes to grit their teeth and push through, to sacrifice everything for the sake of winning. In retrospect, that culture is what obscured not only the consideration of the harrowing trauma Biles continues to endure, but also the fact that she was burying it all to bring glory to USA Gymnastics, the very organization that repeatedly failed to protect their star athlete from child sexual abuse.
Biles is preparing to tour with Team USA, but is “no longer training,” according to the story. Her focus for now seems to be solely concerned with her personal well-being. It’s the very least she deserves — and it’s the most we should ask of her.