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Madison gymnasts discuss pressures in athletic community, after Biles drops from team finals

Badger Gymnastics Academy
Badger Gymnastics Academy(WMTV/Michelle Baik)
Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:09 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Simone Biles is sparking a conversation about mental health in the athletic community Tuesday after she dropped out of the Tokyo Olympic gymnastics team final.

“I thought that was cool of her because usually not a lot of gymnasts can do that,” 13-year-old gymnast Josie Carlson said. “They can’t speak up for themselves and feel that they have a right to walk away from it, so the fact that she did do that is really empowering and inspiring.”

Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, cited her mental health as a reason for leaving the team competition.

“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too,” Biles said in an article by the Associated Press. “So, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Jessie Carlson, owner of the Badger Gymnastics Academy in Madison, said she has watched athletes feel pressure, especially at meets.

“Gymnastics is a sport of performance,” she said. “You’re out in front of judges, you’re out in front of a crowd, you’re out in front of your family, you’re put on display. And I think for a lot of people that can be an uncomfortable situation.”

She added, “I think there is a stigma on our sport—and our society—that says, ‘Tough it out and get through it’ and ‘Why can’t you just do that?’”

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, a distinguished sports psychologist at the UW, said performance anxiety is often a part of high-level competition. “For many people it can actually fuel them to show up their best to give it their all. But they can reach a tipping point,” she said.

Dr. Mirgain continued, “If it’s causing significance of stress, if it’s impairing our performance, we’re just not having fun anymore, we feel like it’s an obligation or duty or there’s dread, that’s the time to really seek some help.”

As she acknowledged the athletic community coming “a long way in prioritizing and valuing mental health,” Dr. Mirgain said Biles’ story will further highlight the issue.

“Simone Biles really made a courageous decision by deciding to withdraw from the teams all-around event,” she said. “It’s courageous because she realized she needed to prioritize her mental health.”

Biles is set to defend her Olympic title in the all-around final on Thursday.

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