TOKYO — From current stars like Katie Ledecky and Cat Osterman to former Olympic greats like Michael Phelps, support continued to grow for Simone Biles and her decison to withdraw from the gymnastics team and all-around competition to pay attention to her mental health.
Osterman, who at 38 was the oldest player on the softball team and one of two who played for the 2008 team that lost in the gold medal game to Japan, said she understood first-hand the high expectations that athletes face.
"It's a common conception as an athlete, that if you come home with less than gold, that it's a disappointment and you all of a sudden will be less than in people's eyes," said Osterman, the former Cypress Springs and University of Texas softball star. "I've experienced that and experienced the mental health downside that went with it.
"When you have all that weight on your shoulders, and if you don't have the right people in your corner, it's not the easiest thing to carry by yourself. I commend her for stepping out and saying, you know what, I can't do this right now."
Said Ledecky, the U.S. star in the pool in Rio and again in Tokyo: "I hope she knows that I really support her. 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."
Phelps, the most-decorated swimmer in Olympic history and now a commentator for NBC, echoed those thoughts.
"I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do," 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. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine."
The International Olympic Committee has established a "Mentally Fit Helpline" that offers in more than 70 languages clinical support, structured short-term counseling, practical support and, if needed, guidance to report cases of harassment and/or abuse.
The IOC-developed Athlete365 website surveyed more than 4,000 athletes in early 2020, and the results led the IOC to shift its tone from sports performance and results to mental health and uplifting the athlete's voices.
"Are we doing enough? I hope so. I think so," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday. "But like everyone in the world, we are doing more on this issue."
The USOPC for the first time has two staff members at the Olympic Village dedicated to mental health consultations. It also has a traditional sports psychology staff on hand in Tokyo.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the USOPC, told the Associated Press that the federation's assets are at Biles' disposal as needed.
"We're deploying every resource that's available to her, and we want to give her space to make choices that are going to be right for her," Hirshland said. "We can't know the answer because none of us live in her shoes."
David Barron covers the Olympics for Hearst Newspapers.
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