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American gymnast Simone Biles makes mental health the talk of Tokyo Olympics

American Brittney Griner takes part in a women’s basketball practice at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan. (AP file photo)

TOKYO — Brittney Griner has long been open about her ongoing battle with depression, an ailment that triggered suicidal thoughts when she was younger and last year drove her out of the WNBA bubble because the isolation was too much to handle.

Her own struggles made the U.S. women’s basketball player feel deeply connected to Simone Biles for choosing her own well-being over sporting glory. Considered the best gymnast in the world, Biles pulled out of team competition in the middle of the event and then opted not to defend her 2016 gold medal in the all-around Thursday night at the Tokyo Games.

“It’s a very tough decision to step away. Especially at the Olympic level,” Griner said Thursday. “If you’re not your best self, you’re not going to be the best in your sport or help your team.”

The topic of mental health, growing in frequency in sports over the past year, was everywhere at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday, a day after Biles made her decision to not compete in the all-around. Olympians in many sports have spent the past two days coming forward to recount their own battles while offering support to Biles.

“This Olympic Games has not only had a conversation about mental health, but now has movement in the right direction of mental health support,” U.S. swimmer Allison Schmitt said after the Americans won silver in the 4×200 freestyle relay.

On Thursday, Biles expressed appreciation about the response she’s received, posting on Twitter: “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.”

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team, said his success and salary doesn’t make him immune to personal struggles. The discussion sparked by Biles made him reflective Thursday of his own journey.

“When people describe what depression looks like or battling mental health issues, sometimes I think back like, ‘Man, I had a couple of those moments. I just didn’t recognize that’s what was happening,'” he said.

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