Paula Radcliffe on Simone Biles and how she fought against the “quit” label

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And then everything went wrong. A combination of a leg injury and stomach ailment forced Radcliffe to withdraw from the race a few miles before the finish line, disoriented and in visible distress.

She was no longer the hope for a medal. Instead, she was branded as “leaving” and accused of letting her country down – much like Simone Biles was this week after withdrawing from the all-around at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.

Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, retired due to mental health issues and Radcliffe said that while their health issues were different, the underlying issue was the same.

“None of us stopped. Our bodies just weren’t able to do it,” Radcliffe told CNN in a telephone interview. “Very few people actually understand the relationship between your mind and your body… body, and that’s what made her the great champion that she is,” she said.

“I would say she’s actually even stronger mentally to be able to make that call now,” Radcliffe said of Biles.

The British press harassed Radcliffe relentlessly in the aftermath of the Athens Olympics, scrutinizing his every move. Journalists were hiding in bushes to watch her train and tried to trick her doctor into disclosing her private medical records. It got so bad that she and her husband and trainer Gary Lough eventually left the country and traveled to Arizona to focus on training.

For Biles and his generation of elite athletes, however, escaping is nearly impossible because of social media.

“It can be so cruel and cruel and harmful and especially in this current situation where athletes are sort of in a bubble, away from the real world… then they start to think these comments are real and they hurt a lot more than if you were protected by all of your family and friends around you, ”Radcliffe said, referring to the Olympics being held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paula Radcliffe looks dejected after retiring from the women's 10,000m event at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.
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She also suggested that stricter social media regulations be put in place. “You couldn’t print something in a newspaper or online that people get away with and yet the people that it hurts still see it.”

Several top Olympians have spoken about the removal of their social media apps and accounts. Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus, who won two Olympic gold medals, said she removed all social media apps on her phone to avoid “external pressure”. And Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten said she quit social media to preserve her mental state after her heartbreaking silver medal in the road race on Sunday.

A major shift in mental health, finally

Still, there is some hope that things will change. Biles’ announcement came just a month after tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros on mental health grounds.

While Osaka and Biles have been the subject of criticism – mainly from people described by Radcliffe as “armchair warriors” – the two have also been praised for speaking out.

The outpouring of support Biles has received from everyone, from her teammates and fellow athletes at the U.S. Olympic Committee, to commentators and fans, has shown that the conversation about mental health in elite sports is long overdue. .

“It’s something that really needs to be understood,” Radcliffe said. “It took a long time to understand physical training, then it took a long time to understand good nutrition and the psychological components of sports preparation, and how that can make you stronger, but now I think the sanity is huge and it needs to be understood. “

Simone Biles' withdrawal reminds us that she's human - and still really the GOAT
For decades, the issue of mental health in sport has been taboo, even though the problem is on a worrying scale. A 2019 analysis from the British Journal of Sports showed that 34% of elite athletes suffered from anxiety or depression and 19% struggled with alcohol abuse, numbers higher than in the general population.

Athletes for Hope – a nonprofit focused on helping athletes that was founded in 2007 by a group of elite athletes including Muhammad Ali, Andre Agassi and Tony Hawk – praised Osaka for starting “conversations. necessary on athlete mental health ”and said the world was witnessing a significant change in the way mental health was discussed.

A statement from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee signaled this change. The committee said it applauded Biles’ decision to “prioritize your mental well-being over everything else.”

“I think that makes it even more admirable that she was able to recognize that for her health she needs to take a step back, and I think that has helped other athletes who have spoken about it because before that there was more perception that people just didn’t talk about it, they got along with it, ”Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe was able to bounce back from his grief in Athens. She said the turning point came during a run she chased after reading a particularly hurtful article calling her a coward and a gold digger, saying she was only running for money. silver.

“I headed for a run and I couldn’t do it and I sat on a log on the trail, sobbing. And then I just had a moment of realization that was just, ‘This is stupid. . That’s what I love to do, it’s been taken away from me by what other people think and they’re not even right, ”she said.

She won the New York City Marathon later that year. The following year, she set a new world record in the all-female marathon, and then won a gold medal at the World Championships.

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