American gymnast Simone Biles has responded to the "outpouring of love and support" she has received after withdrawing from two of her Tokyo Olympics events to focus on her mental wellbeing.
The 24-year-old pulled out after one rotation of the women's team final on Tuesday in Tokyo, citing mental health concerns, and opted out of defending her Olympic title in the individual event on Thursday. USA Gymnastics said Biles is yet to decide whether to withdraw from her four individual finals, which are scheduled to take place next week.
Her decision triggered an avalanche of support from fellow athletes and celebrities including former first lady Michelle Obama and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.
Biles said the messages of support had shown her that her wellbeing means is just as important to her as any sporting accomplishments.
"The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before," Biles tweeted Thursday morning.
US teammate and three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak, who has spoken previously of his own mental health concerns, paid tribute to Biles after competing in the men’s all-around final on Thursday – an event Biles watched from the stands.
Mikulak said: “We’ve had some conversations. She seems like she’s doing what’s best for her. It’s awesome to see that she’s gotten to go against the pressure of society and do what’s best for herself.
“I am really proud of her for prioritising mental health and making sure that everyone knows and understands that we’re not just athletes.
“We’re human beings, and sometimes it’s too much, and when that’s the case you have to do what’s best for you.”
Many have praised Biles for the decision to withdraw to focus on her mental health at a Games, in which she was bidding to become the most successful female Olympian of all time, though she has also been criticised by some quarters.
Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz issued an apology after he came under fire for calling Biles a “selfish, childish national embarrassment".
Reitz made the comment in a since-deleted tweet, but has faced a furious backlash for targeting a vulnerable Biles, who is from Spring, Texas.
"In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed," Reitz said.