2020 Tokyo Olympics: McKayla Maroney Speaks Out About Simone Biles’ ‘Mental Blocks’

by Suzanne Halliburton

Other elite gymnasts know exactly what’s happening with Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics. That’s why several of them came quickly to her defense.

McKayla Maroney tried to explain them in a video clip she posted on social media. Maroney was part of the “Fierce Five” American team that won gymnastics team gold at the 2012 London Olympics. She also earned a silver in the vault.

So about those issues that knocked Simone Biles out of the finals of the team competition and all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. Gymnasts refer to them as “body glitches.” Simone Biles said she didn’t know where she was in the air as she tried to land a vault early in the team competition.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with these mental blocks,” Maroney said. “They are miserable. They are a gymnast’s worst nightmare and they can end your career.”

Maroney said the mental blocks “come out of nowhere.”

“Like, you can’t even understand them,” Maroney said. “Like, ‘Why is this happening to me? I don’t know why my body is doing something different.'”

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Simone Biles Withdrew From All-Around Competition

Simone Biles likely is in the twilight of her athletics career. Historically, the career of an elite female gymnast rarely overlaps into two Olympics. There’s pressure, recurring injuries to go with the cocktail of stress and anxiety.

Biles won the all-around title in 2016 at the Rio Olympics. She officially withdrew from the Tokyo event early Wednesday, then accompanied some of her teammates to the men’s event. Biles is also 24. Ludmilla Tourischeva was the last non-teenager to win the Olympic all-around gold. That was in 1972. Meanwhile, Věra Čáslavská was the last female gymnast to successfully defend their all-around title at an Olympics. She did it in 1964 and then 1968.

So Maroney agreed with Simone Biles withdrawing from the event.

“She was smart to protect her body and her mind,” Maroney said. “Because it’s more important. It just is.”

More athletes are going public in regards to their mental health. Michael Phelps, who won more Olympic medals in history, freely acknowledges now that he was struggling with anxiety and depression back when he competed. He put his body through the stress of making five Olympics, with 28 medals. He was 15 when he won his first gold. And Phelps was 28 when he won his final gold medal.

Phelps also understands Simone Biles. He talked about the gymnast with NBC.

“We’re human beings, nobody is perfect,” Phelps said of Simone Biles. “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and downs and emotional roller coasters.

“I felt like I was carrying, as Simone said, the weight of the world on my shoulders. It’s a tough situation.”

McKayla Maroney retired from gymnastics in 2016, two months after she turned 20.