Brave Simone Biles starts a global conversation about mental health

Simone Biles was honest about the reason she pulled out. Credit: AP

As Britain’s women’s gymnastics team claimed an astonishing bronze medal in Tokyo last night and helped to fuel the best ever start to an Olympic Games by Team GB, something else of deep significance was going on in the very same arena.

The world’s best-ever gymnast, Simone Biles, had earlier pulled out of the competition after performing only one, poorly-executed vault. Shortly after the medal ceremony where the USA team collected silver medals she explained why.

”I have to focus on my mental health," she said.

"We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do. I don't trust myself as much anymore.”

On Wednesday morning, she withdrew from tomorrow’s all-round individual final, too.

In a statement, USA Gymnastics said: “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritising her well-being. Her courage yet again shows why she is a role model for so many.”

It was courageous for her to take the decision to withdraw last night, but even more brave to be honest about why she did, rather than blame a physical injury or hide behind the truth in another way.

'It's okay sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself': Simone Biles spoke about her mental health after withdrawing from the Olympic finals

Her words should empower a generation of athletes to speak up and speak out. Not just in her own sport, which has endured such a torrid past 12 months immersed in allegations of abuse, but in all sports.

Her influence need not stop there either - Biles may well have already provided a guiding hand for many millions of young people terrified at the prospect of opening up about their struggles.

If she can do this on the biggest stage of all then others may be encouraged to do the same in the less high profile - although no less daunting - world they exist in.

'She's just an amazing person': Team GB's bronze medal-winning gymnasts Amelie Morgan and Alice Kinsella praise Simone Biles

At the very least, due to the blanket focus on the Olympics, she has started a worldwide conversation about mental health.

It’s a short sentence, but for such a global sporting icon it’s quite something for her to step aside and conclude: “There's more to life than just gymnast."

Of course, Biles couldn’t be more right.