Several conservative pundits have launched unhinged attacks on Simone Biles—widely considered the greatest female gymnast of all time—following her decision to withdraw from the team and individual all-around gymnastics events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to mental health concerns.
Biles, who took part in an error-prone qualification round for the artistic gymnastics team event last week, withdrew after completing her first vault attempt during the finals on Tuesday. The decorated gymnast remained in the arena to cheer her teammates on from the sidelines—Team USA ended up surrendering the gold medal to Russia—and later revealed that her decision to withdraw was due to potential mental health challenges.
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” Biles wrote on social media.
While Biles’ decision drew sympathy from her fellow athletes and fans, she was also forced to endure taunts and scorn from right-wing pundits.
Charlie Kirk, the far-right podcaster and founder of Turning Point USA, referred to Biles as a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to this country” before using her withdrawal as an excuse to rant about Americans “raising a generation of weak people” and complaining that Russia won the gold medal.
“Simone Biles just showed the rest of the nation that when things get tough, you shatter into a million pieces,” the 27-year-old added.
Conservative talk show host Clay Travis suggested on Twitter that USA gymnastics should pull Biles from the individual competitions going forward and to instead “reward the gymnast who didn’t quit on her teammates.” Conservative writer Amber Athey branded Biles as self-centered, arrogant and a “quitter,” while prominent QAnon conspiracy theorist DeAnna Lorraine suggested that “Simone let her country and team down. She quit before the big moment.”
Across the pond, former British television host Piers Morgan questioned Biles’ mental health concerns, claiming that mental health issues are the “go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport.”
“Kids need strong role models not this nonsense,” Morgan added on Twitter.
Gymnastics is a physically demanding sport with a high injury rate and little room for error. Many of the skills that leading gymnasts perform run the risk of paralyzing or killing the athlete attempting it. During the team finals on Tuesday, Biles was supposed to compete an Amanar, a backward flipping vault with 2.5 twist. Instead, she ended up performing an unplanned 1.5 twist, which could have been catastrophic had she not landed on her feet. Biles later told reporters that she doesn’t trust herself the way she used to.
It is also worth noting that Biles is not only a legendary gymnast with little left to prove in the sport but is also a survivor of sexual assault at the hands of Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. Her return to the Olympics was not just about winning more medals, it was also about being a voice for hundreds of other survivors of Nassar’s crimes.
“I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, [USA gymnastics] would’ve just brushed it to the side,” Biles said ahead of the Olympics.