Former Olympian Michael Phelps, who has been vocal about athletes needing to protect their mental health, said Tuesday that "it broke his heart" when Simone Biles withdrew from the women's team competition over the pressures of the Olympics.
"The Olympics is overwhelming," the former U.S. swimmer said. "There’s a lot of emotions that go into it."
"I think athletes and Olympic athletes in general ... we need someone who we can trust, somebody that can let us be ourselves and listen. Allow us to become vulnerable."
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Biles later said she stepped away from the competition Tuesday morning because she was feeling the pressure of expectations, to perform perfectly to win gold medals. She performed poorly on the vault and failed to nail her landing.
"No, no injury, thankfully,” she afterward. “And that's why I took a step back because I didn't want to do something silly out there and get injured.”
Like Phelps, she talked about the extraordinary pressure that comes with competing in the Olympics, but particularly these Games delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic and being played before empty seats.
“It's been really stressful this Olympic Games,” Biles said. “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."
Phelps, who won 28 Olympic medals, has spoken about his struggle with depression, which became public after he was twice arrested on drunken driving charges, and through the Michael Phelps Foundation promotes swimming and mental and emotional health. The coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult he told Today Parents in December and he has had frightening ups and downs.
Of Biles' decision Tuesday to withdraw, he said, "It broke my heart. But also if you look at it, mental health over the last 18 months is something people are talking about."
"We’re humans," he said. "We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to go through ups and downs and emotion roller coasters. But I think the biggest thing is we all need to ask for help sometimes, too, when we go through those times."