In an Olympics bombshell, megastar Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Games yesterday after her first event.
The shock departure is part of a sea change in acknowledging elite athletes’ mental health challenges, long hidden under the guise of grit and supposedly superhuman abilities to perform—and cope.
Today, more athletes are speaking out about the chasm of care between their physical and mental well-being, TIME reports.
Biles’ own decision was inspired by tennis ace Naomi Osaka’s recent pull-out from 2 Grand Slams, citing mental health.
It also follows years of “immense, inhumane pressure that Biles and her teammates have borne”—including the prolific abuse of disgraced trainer Larry Nassar. Yet “athletes say they have struggled to get reassurance, from both the sport’s governing body and the United States Olympic Committee, that their health and well-being is a priority,” writes Eren Orbey in The New Yorker.
Biles' bow-out sends a message more far reaching than another gold medal:
“We have to protect our minds and our bodies, and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do,” Biles said. It’s a stark contrast to Kerri Strug’s 1996 vault on an injured ankle to win gold, before being escorted away by coaches—including Nassar.
A systemic shift, too? Tokyo will mark the first time the International Olympic Committee has guidelines for athletes and their coaches to educate, screen for, and manage mental health issues.