Simone Biles has already won, even if she withdrew from an Olympic event for mental health reasons.

To be the greatest of all time is to wield power. And Simone Biles wielded hers wisely and with grace on Tuesday.

The gold medalist and record-breaker showed us all how the GOAT should act when she withdrew from the artistic gymnastics women’s team final to care for her mental health. Her teammates in turn gave the world a master class in how to support a struggling colleague, even when their ailment is invisible.

Biles cheered from the sidelines as Team USA continued on, winning silver. When she explained to her teammates that she was stepping aside, they freaked out, but she encouraged them to “kick some butt, just like we’ve done in training. And just lay it out on the floor,” she told Hoda Kotb of Today. Bars wizard Sunisa Lee responded with a rallying cry: “We can go out there and show the world what we came here to do.” Later, Lee, 18, said the competition was the most pressure she’d ever felt in her life.

Simone Biles cheers on her teammates at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Simone Biles cheers on her teammates at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics. Credit: Iris Van Den Broek / Getty Images

While Lee and the others, including Jordan Chiles, who filled in for Biles on short notice, conquered the challenge ahead, Biles hollered, clapped, and delivered chalk to coat her teammates’ hands for a better grip. Being the GOAT means delivering the gold, but also pumping up your team, even if you can’t compete.

Even before the Olympics began, Biles carried the heavy burden of expectation. She was stunned at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and in the years since the 24-year-old has become an internet icon, publicly speaking out about being a survivor of sexual assault and supporting Black Lives Matter. She chose to defy those who put her on an untouchable pedestal for the good of her team. If she had carried on, she told reporters she was worried she’d hurt herself, and Team USA’s chances of medaling. Taking charge of her own self-care was a selfless act. “I have to put my pride aside. I have to do it for the team.”

“It’s like fighting all those demons and coming out here. I have to put my pride aside. I have to do it for the team,” Biles said after the competition, according to Reuters.

She added, “It just sucks when you are fighting with your own head. You want to do it for yourself but you’re just too worried about what everybody else is going to say, think, the internet,” said Biles, who’s battled online trolls for years.

Biles said in a press conference she was inspired by Naomi Osaka, the champion tennis player who refused to talk to the press at the French Open in May due to mental health concerns. Osaka would go on to light the Olympic torch last week and compete in the Games. Before that, though, Osaka made an important point in an essay in Time: Don’t shame people for taking a mental health break.

Biles’ teammates didn’t, even if some on social media still wrongly chastised her decision.

“You will forever be loved. We can’t thank you enough,” Chiles, 20, commented on an Instagram post from Biles exclaiming how proud and thankful she was of her team. Biles was an inspiration, Chiles said.

Other gymnasts and celebrities also showed their support for Biles later on Tuesday. Aly Raisman, who competed with Biles in Rio, told CNN that even though Biles makes it look easy, gymnastics is tough.

“Even the greatest athletes of all time, they’re not perfect, and they’re human too,” Raisman said.

Kerri Strug, who famously competed on the vault during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics despite an ankle injury, sent Biles words of encouragement over Twitter, paired with a goat emoji.

Sharing kind comments on social media with someone taking a mental health break is exactly the right thing to do, as is trying to reframe negative reactions you may have by considering that you don’t know someone’s whole story, mental health professionals told TechSkylight after Osaka shared more of her experiences.

At a press conference, Biles said there were many factors that led to her decision.

“It’s been really stressful this Olympic Games. I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process. It’s been a long year,” she said. “I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out, but we should be out here having fun and sometimes that’s not the case.”

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic but went forward this month as the world continued to combat a fast-spreading, deadly virus. The majority of Japanese citizens didn’t want the Olympics to take place, but the government and Olympic officials carried on. As the country declared a state of emergency due to a COVID surge in early July, spectators were banned from the Olympic Games.

On top of the COVID cloud surrounding the Games, Biles was the only assault survivor of Larry Nassar who came out publicly to compete in Tokyo. A judge sentenced the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor in 2018 to 175 years in prison on criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges. More than 150 women, including Biles and other gymnasts, have opened up about his abuse. Biles did so in a tweet shortly before Nassar was sentenced, affixing the hashtag #MeToo.

Biles has said she was depressed after talking about her trauma. Once a self-described “happy, giggly, energetic” girl, she felt broken. She went to therapy and championed mental health treatment.

She made a point to say that when she went to Tokyo, she wouldn’t be representing USA Gymnastics as an organization. Instead, she told the New York Times, she’d be representing the country and women of color.

“I’m going to go out there and represent the USA, represent World Champions Centre, and represent Black and brown girls over the world,” she told the newspaper. After withdrawing from the event, she told reporters she wanted to focus on her wellbeing and that “there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”

Biles made the decision to step aside for mental health reasons, not her coaches. She was using her power to do what was best for her team, for herself, and possibly for others who don’t yet feel strong enough to put their mental health first. Strength can be shown on the sidelines, as much as on the mat, the vault, or the bars. Osaka was her inspiration. Biles may be that for someone else, just as she’s inspired Black girls to participate in a historically white sport.

There are two more events that Biles is eligible to compete in — if she can — later this week. But whether she does or not, she’s already won.

And so has Team USA.

UPDATE: July 27, 2021, 4:37 p.m. PDT This post has been updated to include comments from Olympians Aly Raisman and Kerri Strug.

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