Simone Biles points to historic abuse from coach in retweet attacking critics

Tokyo Olympics Artistic Gymnastics (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Tokyo Olympics Artistic Gymnastics (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from an event in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in which she was set to defend her gold medal, provoking a wave of both support and derision across the internet.

Although Ms Biles has not explained explicitly why she withdrew on Tuesday, the 24-year-old retweeted a message that suggests she is struggling with trauma stemming from sexual abuse at the hands of Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar.

Andrea Orris, a fitness trainer and former Olympian gymnast, posted a lengthy message on social media defending Ms Biles’s decision to pull out of her event.

“It makes me so frustrated to see comments about Simone not being mentally tough enough or quitting on her team,” the message starts. “We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teen years.”

Ms Orris continued, listing examples of Ms Biles’s toughness and the challenges she has overcome.

“That girl has endured more trauma by the age of 24 than most people will ever go through in a lifetime,” Ms Orris said.

She noted the incident that preceded the event, in which the gymnast apparently botched an attempt at a 2.5 twist, could have resulted in “career-ending” or “life-threatening” injuries if Ms Biles had been less skilled. Ms Orris said the fact that Ms Biles missed the move is a “big deal”, suggesting the Olympian's mental health struggles may have put her physical health at risk if she had stayed in the competition.

Ms Biles said she had experienced a “little bit of the twisties”, a phenomenon similar to the yips in other sports that causes the gymnast to essentially lose control of their bodies in the air. The Olympian said her teammates noticed it during practice prior to her missing the 2.5 twist.

Like the yips, the twisties is a mental phenomenon, and Ms Biles’s case could have been triggered by her past trauma.

Ms Biles was one of more than 150 gymnasts who were sexually abused by Nassar, who formerly served as the US Olympics team doctor.

She has said that the assaults have left her with occasional suicidal thoughts.

The gymnast told reporters that she was pulling out to “focus on my wellbeing”, and lamented that she did not trust herself in the air.

“I just don't trust myself as much as I used to,” she said. “I don't know if it's age, but I'm a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I'm also not having as much fun, and i know that this Olympic Games I wanted to do it for myself, and I was still doing it for other people, so that just hurts my heart badly, that doing what I love has been taken away.”