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Why athletes prioritising their mental health should be celebrated, not shunned

Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Liz Cambage we applaud you.
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Despite being postponed for a year, millions of people around the world have been glued to their screens watching the 2020 (or 2021 if we’re being technical) Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan.

WATCH BELOW: Gymnast Simone Biles Drops Never-Before-Seen Move At United States Championships

We’ve seen swimmers glide through water like fish, gymnasts perform death-defying acrobatic routines and people lift twice their body weight over their heads like it’s not even a big deal.

However, it turns out it’s a very big deal.

These athletes have been training for years, putting their bodies on the line as well as sharpening that mental focus and strength to keep their eyes on the prize.

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US gymnast Simone Biles is one of the sport’s biggest icons. (Credit: Getty)

This week US gymnast Simone Biles, who has been regarded the best in history and the GOAT (greatest of all time) of gymnastics, made headlines for withdrawing from the team competition and then the individual all-around event due to mental health reasons.

“I was just, like, shaking, could barely nap. I just never felt like this going into a competition before. And I tried to go out here and have fun. Warmup in the back went a little bit better. But then once I came out here, I was like, No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,” she explained at a press conference.

The US team went on to win a silver medal but critics slammed the 24-year-old gymnast for her decision to “quit”. 

WATCH BELOW: Simone Biles reacting to a bee is literally all of us. Post continues after video…

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For starters, Simone is not a quitter.

This is a young woman who has competed and won whilst dealing with painful kidney stones and broken toes on both feet. Every time she soars in the air and defies gravity, she’s putting her body in danger.

This is a woman who has such intense focus and skill that she’s always looking to be the best.

This is a 24-year-old sexual assault survivor who bravely shared her story with the world. So how can we mere mortals expect her to perform for the world and be totally fine 24/7?

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The US gymnastics team scored silver medals at Tokyo 2020. (Credit: Instagram)

The same story happened in May this year when Japanese tennis champ Naomi Osaka decided to withdraw from the French Open, explaining to her fans on Instagram that she’s suffered “long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” and as an introvert with social anxiety, has a hard time coping with it.

“I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans,” she wrote at the time.

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Tennis champ Naomi Osaka withdrew from this year’s French Open for mental health reasons. (Credit: Getty)

Closer to home, Aussie basketball superstar Liz Cambage also withdrew from the Games, admitting in a statement that though one of her biggest dreams is winning an Olympic gold medal with the Opals, she was a long way from where she wanted and needed to be.

“It’s no secret that in the past I’ve struggled with my mental health and recently I’ve been really worried about heading into a ‘bubble’ Olympics. No family. No friends. No fans. No support system outside of my team. It’s honestly terrifying for me,” she said in a statement.

“The past month I have been having panic attacks, not sleeping and not eating. Relying on daily medication to control my anxiety is not the place I want to be right now. Especially walking into competition on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

“I know myself, and I know I can’t be the Liz everyone deserves to see compete for the Opals. Not right now at least. I need to take care of myself mentally and physically.”

Yet another case of a female athlete, not to mention a female athlete of colour, at the top of their game prioritising their mental health.

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Aussie basketballer Liz Cambage also withdrew from the Olympics. (Credit: Instagram)

Simone, Naomi and Liz among many others shouldn’t feel the need to apologise for looking after their mental wellbeing.

We need to get rid of the mindset that mental health and self-care is all about running a bubble bath, taking a moment and getting over it. It’s about knowing your limits and having the strength to say no.

Besides, we bet that over half of their critics can’t even touch their toes so who are they to judge?

If you or someone you know is struggling, visit Beyond Blue for information and support.

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