Katie Ledecky Expresses Support for Simone Biles: 'Mental Health Is So Important'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 28, 2021

Katie Ledecky of United States prepares to start in the women's 200-meter freestyle final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

Katie Ledecky sympathized with fellow Olympian Simone Biles after the American gymnast cited her mental health in withdrawing from the team and individual all-around competitions at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

"I would never want to speak for Simone or say that I know what she’s feeling because none of us do, but I understand it," Ledecky told reporters. "We’re at the highest level, we have the most eyes on us of anyone in the world right now. I’m not just saying us as in Simone and me, I’m saying everyone at the Olympics. I mean everyone around the world is watching."

The six-time Olympic gold medalist added the attention and scrutiny that comes with competing in the Olympics can put a strain on an athlete.

“Mental health is so important, physical health is so important, and it’s no different being Olympians," Ledecky said. "It’s something that we all have to watch out for, watch out for each other and help each other through in times of need.”

For Biles, the burden was even higher because she was arguably the face of Team USA for this year's Summer Games. And the standard she had set for herself coming into this summer raised expectations to an almost unattainable level.

The New York Times' Juliet Macur profiled Biles as the Olympics were getting underway and described just how exacting the last few years have been on her.

Beyond the physical wear and tear of competing and training, the 24-year-old suffered the trauma of watching the Larry Nassar scandal unfold. More than 150 women and girls said in court that they were sexually abused by Nassar during his time as a doctor for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to at least 100 years in prison on child pornography and sexual assault convictions.

Biles revealed in January 2018 she was among Nassar's victims, and Macur described her as feeling "betrayed" and "[believing] that her sport didn’t care for her at all" from the saga.

The four-time Olympic gold medalist was blunt when discussing her motivations for continuing to compete.

"I’m going to go out there and represent the USA, represent World Champions Centre, and represent Black and brown girls over the world," Biles told Macur. "At the end of the day, I’m not representing USA Gymnastics."

Biles helped the United States win silver in the team competition earlier this week.

USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday morning that she wouldn't participate in the all-around final. Her status for the individual competitions remains up in the air.