By Madison Meeks
It is no secret that Simone Biles is in a league of her own.
At twenty-four years old, she already has four gymnastics moves– on floor, beam and vault– named after her. Even more impressive is that she may soon have a fifth one named after her. This fifth move, the Yurchenko double pike vault, is considered very dangerous and has only been performed in competition by male gymnasts until Biles landed it on May 22, 2021 at the U.S. Classic.
She is the most decorated U.S. women’s gymnast ever with 32 World/Olympic medals, a seven-time U.S. all-around champion, a six-time U.S. vault champion, five-time U.S. balance beam champion and five-time floor exercise champion– amongst many more accomplishments and accolades.
Needless to say, Simone Biles is THAT chick.
While she completely dominates the gymnast world, I think what makes her “Black excellence” is her journey throughout the 2021 Olympics so far. It’s been one full of authenticity, bravery and Black girl magic.
On July 28, 2021, USA Gymnastics announced that Simone Biles would be withdrawing from the final individual all-around competition “in order to focus on her mental health.” Team USA did not let her withdrawal be in vain though. Jade Carey, Simone Biles’ replacement, ended up placing 8th in the all-around competition, and Sunisa Lee brought home the gold and became the 5th consecutive American gymnast to win overall champion.
When asked about her decision to withdraw, Biles put it simply and powerfully, “Put your mental health first. That’s more important than any other medal you could win.”
This right here shows immense strength and courage. According to Mental Health America, Black and African Americans feel that mild depression or even anxiety would be “crazy” in their social circles. Most believe that discussions about mental illness aren’t even appropriate family chats.
Also, for so many of us in the Black community, “overworking” has been disguised by the idea of “grinding” and “working hard” to the point where eventually one’s mind, body, and even soul aren’t in sync. Black women, especially, have been known to work tirelessly, taking hit after hit to achieve their goals, and it has taken a toll on our mental health. In 2017, 10.3% Black women used mental health services compared to 6.6% of Black men.
So, for the ever-so-talented and accomplished Simone Biles to be so publicly vulnerable about prioritizing her mental health, I knew she was the epitome of “Black excellence” right then and there.
And clearly Simone made the right call. Upon her return to the 2021 Olympics, she received a bronze medal for the balance beam with a score of 14.000, tying her with Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals won by a U.S. gymnast.
Once again, Black excellence in its finest– and best– form.
People were disappointed with Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw. Some called her weak, and some even compared her to Keri Strugg and called her a “selfish, national embarrassment. Piers Morgan even offered his own vitriolic hot take.
Like many, many, many, many, MANTY people, I think Biles’ decision opened more people’s eyes to the importance of mental health– especially after the year we’ve had with isolation and COVID-19’s impact on mental health.
Moreso, I think Simone Biles helped a lot of people within Black communities realize that it’s perfectly okay to step away from everything and regroup. She showed us that doing so doesn’t diminish accomplishments or the ability to accomplish more.
For that, she has redefined Black excellence not only for the community but for everyone.
She’s expanded the definition of Black excellence. Now, to be successful in the current moment and inspire generations to come, being your best now means making sure your mind, body and soul are in sync.
So, here’s to Biles’ powerful performance on and off the mat. It’s exactly what we needed to see.
Since withdrawing, in 2021, Biles has not returned to gymnastics competitions. Now, close to two years later, the athlete has only denied rumors of retirement and expressed plans to return after her mental health break. In February 2022, her fiance proposed and it looks like she has been focused on wedding plans ever since. Now 26-years-old, her social media accounts have been filled with vacation, bridal shower, and couple photos. And we love that for her!