Simone Biles: 'Outpouring of support makes me realise I'm more than gymnastics'

Credit: AP

Simone Biles has said the public support she's received after withdrawing from two Olympic competitions has made her realise she's "more than [her] accomplishments and gymnastics".

On Thursday, the reigning Olympic gymnastics champion tweeted of an "outpouring [of] love and support". The largely positive public reaction follows the US athlete pulling out of both team and all-round competitions to focus on her mental wellbeing.

Biles, 24, tweeted: "The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realise I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before."

On Tuesday, Biles, considered by many to be the greatest gymnast ever, pulled out of the team finals after performing a poorly-executed vault. Shortly after the medal ceremony, 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.” The following day, USA Gymnastics said in a statement that Biles had also opted not to defend her Olympic title in the all-round competition.

The reaction - from both the public and those in the sporting world - has been overwhelmingly supportive.

On Thursday, former coach Aimee Boorman told ITV News she was "incredibly proud" of Biles.

"Just to have that self-awareness as an athlete - knowing that she's going to face ridicule for stepping away from such big competition and realising that her health and safety is more important - I think really sets the tone for the next generation of athletes," she said.

She added that for a gymnast of Biles' calibre, ignoring warning signs could have fatal consequences.

"If something goes wrong you could end up paralysed, you could end up dead," she said.

US swimming icon Michael Phelps, winner of a record 23 gold medals and now retired, also backed Biles.

On NBC, he said watching Biles struggle broke his heart.

“Mental health over the last 18 months is something people are talking about,” Phelps said.

Simone Biles lands from a poorly-executed vault in the team finals on July 27 Credit: AP

“We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. So, yes, it is OK not to be OK.”

Phelps himself has long been open about his own mental health struggles, he once revealed he contemplated suicide after the 2012 Olympics while wracked with depression.

Former Team GB cyclist Callum Skinner singled out praise for Biles when describing progress in the discussion of athletes' mental health.

Speaking to ITV News, Skinner said: "I can definitely sympathise with Simone and I really respect her for speaking out and being honest with everyone about what she is facing." Skinner said high-level sport is facing a "watershed moment" in the way mental health is being talked about.

"I think Osaka and Biles, and many athletes before them, have done well in showing that even though we are Olympians and sometimes classed as superhuman, we are just as susceptible to shortcomings and illnesses as anyone in general society," he said.