Simone Biles, who had missed almost all of her 2021 Olympics schedule due to mental health concerns, returned to take bronze in the balance beam final Tuesday morning in Tokyo.
It was the final women’s gymnastics event of the Games, and the first in which Biles was able to participate fully.
After leaving the team gymnastics finals exactly one week ago following a botched vault in the first event, Biles had dropped her individual events one by one, as fans at home crossed their fingers—and prayed—that she might still get a chance to win her sixth individual Olympic medal and seventh overall.
And that she did, executing a powerful beam routine and exiting the mat with a look of relief.
Her ordeal in Japan began with question marks related to her health, with speculation—and reports—initially indicating an injury after her fateful showing in the team finals.
Later, clarity came with Team USA citing her mental health and Biles herself clarifying that she was struggling with the “twisties” (a phenomenon involving the loss of spatial orientation while completing aerial maneuvers).
She struggled with a similar issue in 2013.
This, combined with her comments on July 25th about feeling “the weight of the world” on her shoulders in the early stages of this year’s Olympics, made for an international showing of support from athletes, commentators, and the media—who rallied behind the gymnast widely regarded as the greatest of all time.
Catholic media in particular joined in the chorus, as Biles is one of the few high-profile Olympians to be open about their Catholic faith.
She also made global headlines for being open about her mental health in a sport where it isn’t particularly common. That said, at least two other athletes—Great Britain’s Adam Peaty and Ben Stokes— seem to have followed her lead in recent days, taking breaks from their sports for psychological reasons.
“You’re seeing it in all sports now. You’re seeing it with Simone Biles,” Peaty told the Daily Telegraph on Sunday.
“Mental health matters and it is about getting the balance right at that elite level.”
Now, having regained control of her mind and body—exhibiting balance indeed, on the mat and off—Biles stands as an Olympic medalist once again.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).