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Following Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from both the team finals and all-around competition at the Toyko Olympics, retired swimmer and current NBC Olympics commentator Michael Phelps is showing his support for the 24-year-old gold medalist while stressing the importance of addressing mental health in competitive athletics.
The former U.S. Olympic swimmer and winner of a record 23 gold medals spoke to NBC Olympics host Mike Tirico about the “weight of gold” that athletes, particularly Olympians, face in a high-emotion and “overwhelming” competition, with Phelps stating that Biles’ situation was one that “broke my heart.”
“We need someone who we can trust,” Phelps told Tirico. “Somebody that can let us be ourselves and listen. Allow us to become vulnerable, somebody who’s not going to try and fix us. You know, we carry a lot of things, a lot of weight on our shoulders. And it’s challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations that are being thrown on top of us. So, it broke my heart.”
Following days of statements in which Biles explained her decision to withdraw from the events and the role that her mental health played in that, yesterday — after an outpouring of support from various sports, political and entertainment figures online — Biles tweeted that she realized “I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics.”
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. 🤍
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
Phelps, who previously shared in 2018 his own struggles with depression, including that he contemplated suicide following the 2012 Olympics, emphasized during his interview that Biles’ honesty and decision to speak up about her own experiences is part of a recent trend of both public figures and people in general being more open about their mental health.
“If you look at it, mental health over the last 18 months is something that people are talking about,” the NBC Olympics swimming analyst said.
Similar to previous statements he shared on the Today show, Phelps stressed that it’s important to remember that Olympians are human that, like anyone else, experience “emotional roller coasters.”
“We’re humans, right? We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect so, yes, it is OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and downs and emotional roller coasters,” Phelps said to Tirico. “But I think the biggest thing is we all need to ask for help sometimes, too, when we go through those times. For me, I can say personally it was something very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help. I felt like I was carrying, as Simone said, the weight of the world on [my] shoulders. It’s a tough situation.”
The decorated athlete who holds multiple Olympic records said that if people aren’t “taking care of both [physical and mental health], how are we ever expecting to be 100 percent?” He also shared that he hopes Biles speaking up during the Games is “eye-opening” for regular Americans and sports fans.
“I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open,” he said. “It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. Look, for me when I started on this journey five years ago, I knew it was big. I knew it was going to be challenging. Five years into it now, it’s even bigger than I can comprehend. So, this is something that is going to take a lot of time, a lot of hard work and people that are willing to help.”
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