Over the last few months, mental health in sport has become a bigger talking point than ever.
When Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open in May, her actions raised awareness to those struggling around the world. The Japanese tennis star has since been extremely vocal about her internal battles and it seems to have started a ripple effect.
So much so that Simone Biles, one of the biggest sporting stars on the planet, spoke openly about her mental health during the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
The four-time Olympic champion withdrew from the artistic gymnastics all-around team final after struggling with her performance on the vault. She later admitted she had been suffering with the ‘twisties’, a term used in gymnastics when athletes suffer a mental block, which can often limit the sense of space and dimension.
Alice Kinsella, who won bronze in the team final with Great Britain, spoke with GiveMeSport Women about Biles’ condition and her decision to pull out of the event.
“I’ve had it before [the twisties] and you literally don’t know where you are in the air. Having that on hard landings during a competition is very, very scary. But what she did, I feel like it’s made her a better person and it’s inspired the next generation that if they do have a problem, it’s okay to pull out. It’s okay not to be okay.”
Biles was due to compete in five individual events as well as the team final, but only made an appearance in the balance beam, the last women’s competition of the tournament.
Despite being absent for the individual all-around, vault, floor and uneven bars, the 24-year-old found enough strength to make her comeback onto the Olympic stage in Tokyo.
Biles finished third with a score of 14 to win her second bronze medal on the apparatus.
“I’m so happy for her to get that bronze medal,” Kinsella continued. “She obviously deserves it – she’s the greatest of all time. What she had is so hard, especially at the Olympic Games, so for her to come away with a bronze medal, I just feel amazing for her.”
Kinsella discussed the importance of athletes keeping both their body and mind healthy and admitted it’s “probably just as hard to keep mentally fit.” The 20-year-old Team GB star revealed her own Olympic struggle after she felt disappointed with her performance in the qualifying round.
“I rolled my ankle which wasn’t great and qualification didn’t go my way. I was honestly really down at that point and I thought ‘I can’t do this’ but I just flipped a switch and thought, ‘we’re going to smash the team final’, which is what we did.”
Indeed, the Brits made history in Tokyo by becoming the nation’s first women’s gymnastics squad to win an Olympic medal since 1928. Kinsella featured alongside Amelie Morgan, 18, and 16-year-old twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova.
As the youngest gymnastics squad at the Games, Team GB wowed the world with their performance and their bronze medal victory will be a day earmarked in each athlete’s careers forever.
Kinsella couldn’t contain her smile as she spoke about her medal, but also highlighted one other key part of the Olympics she thought was special.
“In a couple of years’ time, we can tell people that we’ve been to the Olympics during Covid-19 and I think it will be a very good story to tell. But not only that, we can say that when things are hard, we can still get through it and not only alone but together as well.”
Alice is speaking on behalf of Team GB and Olympic partner, Bridgestone, as part of its Olympic Experience Roadshow. Bridgestone is a proud partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.