It seems like everyone has an opinion on Simone Biles withdrawing from the gymnastics team and all-around finals at the 2021 Olympics, some more welcome than others. Few of us, though, can even fathom the pressure she's under as the face of her sport and an entire Olympic Games, with the crushing expectations of a gold-medal favourite on her shoulders. If anyone can relate, it's swimming legend Michael Phelps, who has spoken openly about how his own Olympic experience affected his mental health and the importance of reaching out for help. Phelps is in Tokyo as a swimming analyst and general commentator with NBC, so we got to hear his thoughts firsthand when he sat down with host Mike Tirico yesterday.
"It broke my heart," Phelps said of Biles's ordeal. As Olympians, "we carry a lot of weight on our shoulders," he continued. "And it's challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all these expectations that are being thrown on top of us."
The Olympics are overwhelming, Phelps continued, and athletes need someone they can trust, someone to listen to them without trying to "fix" them. "We're human beings. Nobody is perfect," Phelps said. "It is OK to not be OK . . . we all need to ask for help sometimes."
The swimmer and mental health advocate also expressed hope for a silver lining, because more and more people are now talking about mental health. "I hope this is an eye-opening experience," Phelps said. "I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open."