Former world number one golfer Rory McIlroy backed Simone Biles over her Olympic withdrawal on Thursday, saying the superstar gymnast was “100%" right to prioritise her mental health. The Northern Irishman, speaking after shooting a two-under-par 69 in the opening round of the Olympic golf tournament, said Biles had faced “massive" pressure heading into the Tokyo Games. “I live in the United States and anything that came on the TV, NBC or commercials about the Olympics, it was Simone Biles — it was Simone Biles Olympics, right?" McIlroy said. “The weight on her shoulders is massive."
US star Biles, one of the faces of the Tokyo Olympics, abruptly withdrew from the team final on Tuesday before scratching from Thursday’s all-around final over concerns for her mental well-being.
The gymnast’s withdrawal has been hailed as a game-changing moment that could help destigmatise issues concerning mental health amongst elite athletes.
McIlroy said the willingness of athletes such as US swimming great Michael Phelps and Biles to openly address mental health issues would help to shift attitudes about how the subject is viewed in the sporting world in future.
“I think in sports there’s still this notion of just like powering through it and digging in and you’re not a competitor unless you get through these things," McIlroy said.
“But then when you hear the most decorated Olympian ever (Phelps) talk about his struggles and then probably the greatest gymnast ever talk about her struggles, then it encourages more people that have felt that way to come out and share how they felt."
McIlroy compared Biles to Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open earlier this year after opening up about her struggle with depression.
“And just as I thought Naomi Osaka was right to do what she did at the French Open and take that time off and get herself in the right place, I 100% percent agree with what Simone is doing as well.
“You have to put yourself in the best position physically and mentally and to be at your best and if you don’t feel like you’re in that position, then you’re going to have to make those decisions … I’m certainly very impressed with those two women to do what they did and put themselves first."