Simone Biles Makes Heartbreaking Admission About Her Tokyo Withdrawal - Women's Health

Simone Biles Makes Heartbreaking Admission About Her Tokyo Withdrawal

“I was not physically capable.”

by | Sep 28, 2021


At the beginning of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Simone Biles was the poster-girl for every young buddying athlete and gymnast. Her mega-watt smile beamed out from TV screens, billboards and magazines, the reflection of someone at the peak of their physical fitness and athletic prowess, someone with unshakeable confidence. But when Biles took to her events, something was off. Viewers at home could only play armchair commentator, questioning whether Biles was merely having an off day or choking on the pressure of the occasion. But when Biles made the decision to withdraw from most of her events, a shocked world sat up and took notice. Finally, this was an athlete unwilling to sacrifice herself – both mentally and physically – for an accolade and further achievement. It took immense strength and courage to do so, and now Biles is speaking up about why she made the decision and still finds it heartbreaking today. 

In a recent interview with New York magazine, Biles explained what it was like to get the “twisties” in Tokyo, a condition that ultimately led her to pull out of competition. While she admits she was feeling strong going into the Games after gaining some coping mechanisms from attending therapy during Olympics training, acute anxiety returned once Biles got to Tokyo. The Olympics suddenly felt unfamiliar due to the Covid-19 safety protocols and Biles was unable to shake the feeling that something was off. “Leading up to it, I got more and more nervous,” Biles said. “I didn’t feel as confident as I should have been with as much training as we had.”

As she took to the qualifying events, Biles started fumbling and her coaches soon stepped in with adjustments to help increase her sense of safety. “I was not physically capable,” she told the publication. “Every avenue we tried, my body was like, Simone, chill. Sit down.”

It wasn’t until she performed her vault in the women’s team that Biles knew she had to stop. She suffered from the twisties, only completing one-and-a-half of her two-and-a-half planned twists as she then stumbled on the landing. The twisties are a phenomenon triggered by stress and sees the athlete’s mind and body experience disconnect while in the air. For gymnasts, the consequences can be life-threatening. “My perspective has never changed so quickly from wanting to be on a podium to wanting to be able to go home, by myself, without any crutches,” Biles reflects. “It’s so dangerous, it’s basically life or death. It’s a miracle I landed on my feet. If that was any other person, they would have gone out on a stretcher. As soon as I landed that vault, I went and told my coach: I cannot continue.”

Even so, the decision was one that Biles says she still finds herself occasionally bawling over today. At the end of the day though, she knows that due to her emotional state and impaired bodily function at the time, it was the right decision. “Everybody asks, ‘If you could go back, would you?’ No. I wouldn’t change anything because everything happens for a reason,” says Biles. “And I learned a lot about myself – courage, resilience, how to say no and speak up for yourself.”

That Biles had significant emotional distress is clear. She became the face for an organisation that had failed her, after she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar. Since realising she was abused, Biles has spoken up about experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts after being in denial of the trauma for years. But most heartbreaking of all in the interview was the fact that Biles admits she pushed herself through a lot of the pain and pressure just to make the Olympics. “If you looked at everything I’ve gone through for the past seven years, I should have never made another Olympic team,” said Biles. 

“I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. It was too much. But I was not going to let him take something I’ve worked for since I was six years old. I wasn’t going to let him take that joy away from me. So I pushed past that for as long as my mind and my body would let me.”

Now, Biles is back in therapy and processing the trauma as she continues her healing. She’s frustrated at the open-ended nature of recovering from such psychological wounds, but coming to terms with the fact that it might be something she continues to work through for the next 20 years. “No matter how much I try to forget, it’s a work in progress,” says Biles. 

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

Recommended to you

8 Of The Best Exercise Shorts That Will Power You Through A Summer Of Movement

It’s official: Shorts Season is officially here. While lockdown has seen many of us realise that activewear is less something to be worn for a workout and more a uniform we choose to do any and all daily activities in, when the warmer temperatures roll around, that favourite pair of sweatpants and leggings sometimes don’t cut it. Sure, they might be a staple in any wardrobe, but the Aussie sun doesn’t listen to reason, no matter how comfortable or cute it might be. And when it comes to summer, working out in leggings can feel like being trapped in a sauna, the sweat pooling at your ankles and around the waistband – as well as those other areas we won’t mention here. 

But as we transition from leggings to shorts, it becomes clear pretty quickly that not all shorts are created equal, and certainly not all shorts are fit for a workout. Take it from us at Women’s Health HQ, we’ve been there, tried it and lived to see the consequences. From the shorts that look cute but ride up to show your undies on the run, to those that feel like being strapped into a harness that’s digging into your hip bones. Then there are the fabrics that can cause chafing – a big no – and those that basically shine a spotlight on any area you might be sweating. 

Thankfully, a number of brands are here to cater to your exercise needs with innovative materials, fabrics and sustainable options to see you through a summer of movement. Regardless of your workout preferences or daily activity, we’ve selected the best shorts that will ensure you feel good in your body, shorts that get you excited to embrace the day and attack it with energy, that make you want to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, whether it be walking, running, or socialising in the park. Here are our pick of the best bike shorts below. 


Uptown Biker, $240

What says summer more than a pop of orange and the sleek shape of these Nagnata biker shorts? With its mid-length and horizontal raised rib side detail, these are shorts you can wear both for a workout and out to meet the girls. Made in Australia with a technical knit fabrication, the double-layer jacquard provides gentle sculpting qualities for the body, making it an excellent choice for light to moderate fitness activities like yoga, pilates or barre. 

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot(gamData.adUnit, [300, 250], 'gam_midarticle_pos2_2') .defineSizeMapping(gamData.sizeMap.midarticle) .setTargeting('pos', '2') .addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.display('gam_midarticle_pos2_2'); });

New Balance

Q Speed Fuel Short, $70

We love the colour of these shorts from New Balance which are cut with a sleek, speedy look that also helps to elongate the legs. Featuring NB DRY moisture wicking fabric, these are the shorts you want for high intensity exercise or long runs, keeping you comfortable and dry. There’s also an interior brief for added comfort and a stash pocket to keep your essentials. 

All Access

Ultra High Rise Zip Front Biker Short, $78

Yes, the colour is amazing but the fit is equally sensational on these All Access shorts. For those who love a high-rise fit and wide waistband that holds you in at the waist, look no further. The sleek, shiny look offers mid-compression and the fabric is moisture-wicking, so you can stay comfortable even during your sweatiest workouts. 


Nike x Naomi Osaka Utility Short, $90

Few things are worse than heading out the door for a run and realising your shorts offer no pockets for those essentials you need. You’re left to hold your iPhone, keys, and anything else you might need in your sweaty palm. Thankfully, Naomi Osaka knows what we need when it comes to exercise shorts and these utility shorts from her collaboration with Nike offer all that and more with a relaxed fit and elastic waistband. 


Session short Tights, $72

When it comes to bike shorts, you want to feel supported and held in but you also want to be able to breathe. These Tracksmith session short tights are exceptional in offering support while still ensuring comfort remains a priority. Forget about chafing, these shorts won’t ride up and down and the fabric offers more coverage and support against the body. 

Outdoor Voices

Relay 3” Short, $48

Who said summer shorts have to be boring? Outdoor Voices brings fashion-forward style and playfulness to their collections with fun prints and exciting colours. We love the relay 3” shorts for their ultralight, quick-drying fabric that also happens to be made from recycled polyester. But more importantly, we love the print and Poppy Swirl is as good as it gets. There’s even a hidden pocket for your valuables, too. 


Align High-Rise Short 6”, $69

If you’re familiar with the buttery-soft feel of Lululemon’s tights, you’ll want to get your hands on a pair of their shorts, too. Made with the same Nulu fabric that their tights are known for, these shorts feel weightless and super soft. They might be our go-to staple for any workout, but the feel is so second-skin that it’s hard to not wear them for every other activity, too. 

Spiritual Gangster

Seamless Biker Short, $112

These biker shorts from Spiritual Gangster move with you, thanks to a three-tiered compressive waistband that offers a flattering high waist that hugs you in all the right places, without proving constrictive. They offer medium compression but are built for all day comfort, and the colour is a true summer staple because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love tie-dye?