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Simone Biles' achievements are bigger than sport

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
Felix Tamsut
August 3, 2021

After taking a break to deal with her mental health, the world's most famous gymnast has won bronze in the beam final. Her actions in Tokyo should be remembered as more important than any medal, argues DW’s Felix Tamsut.

Simone Biles waits for her turn to perform during the artistic gymnastics women's final
Simone Biles made her long-awaited return to the Olympic Games on TuesdayImage: Gregory Bull/AP/picture alliance

Superstar gymnast Simone Biles has won the bronze medal on the individual beam after taking a break to deal with her mental health.

"I truly feel the weight of the world on my shoulders," she wrote on her Instagram account before Tuesday's beam final, where she finished behind two Chinese gymnasts. "The Olympics is no joke!"

While her sporting achievements undoubtedly place her among the greatest sportspeople already, it's her actions away from sport which will make a real difference for so many people, myself included.

A few years ago, I started suffering from several panic attacks a day. Some of them were so bad I ended up being admitted to hospital. Back then, I didn't know what a panic attack even was. I thought I had a physical problem of some sort which needed solving, like a cold or a virus.

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
DW's Felix Tamsut

Once a person close to me suggested it might be an idea to check if the panic attacks have psychological reasons, I felt confused. I didn't want to acknowledge I might be suffering from a mental health situation. After being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I felt ashamed. What would my family and friends say? Would I lose my job?

I felt like there was no one else like me on the planet. I felt alone.


Anyone can suffer from mental health issues

But the hardest part was yet to come. Dealing with your mental health means not only battling with a disease, but also with other people's perceptions and stigmas. Moreover, many of us are expected to perform regardless of our situation, be it at the workplace or in social terms. Often, you just need a break to take care of yourself, just like anyone would rest if they're suffering from a cold.

One of the world's most famous athletes decided to do just that, and talked about how mental strains can hit you harder than any physical disease; how everyone can suffer from mental health issues, regardless of how physically fit, famous or rich you are; that it's no shame to talk about it and live with it.

People like me can easily relate to Biles' decision to only compete once her mental health situation allowed it. The way she wasn't scared of publicly admitting the reason for taking a pause from the biggest sporting stage on Earth, with many millions looking forward to her performance and expecting her to deliver, meant many people like me felt seen, people whose struggles have often been belittled, sometimes even ignored.

Due to her decision, more people will understand metal pressure is "no joke."

For that alone, her achievements at Tokyo 2020 should be considered to be far more important than any gold medal.