'Olympic spirit at its best' - IOC boss praises struggling Biles

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USA’s Simone Biles applauds during the artistic gymnastics women’s team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP)

IOC chief Thomas Bach said US superstar Simone Biles had shown “Olympic spirit at its best” on Friday by cheering on her fellow gymnasts despite being sidelined with mental problems in Tokyo.

Bach said Biles had shown great courage by admitting she was not mentally fit to compete, before turning up in the stands as teammate Sunisa Lee succeeded her as all-around champion.

The four-time gold medallist’s Games now hang in the balance as she struggles with the “twisties”, a mental block that affects gymnasts’ judgement while spinning in mid-air.

“I can only say we are with her and we wish her well,” Bach told news agency journalists in Tokyo, adding that he spoke to Biles after she withdrew during the team competition on Tuesday. She later pulled out of the individual all-around.

“I’m really admiring how she’s handling the situation,” added the International Olympic Committee president.

“On the one hand she admits to have this problem. This is already courageous. Who one year ago would have admitted to say I have mental health problems?

“And at the same time, then cheering on their teammates and then being there and supporting when her successor is crowned in the all-around final.

“This is great human quality and this is Olympic spirit at its best.”

Mental health has been a key concern at the Olympics, after competitors had to prepare during the coronavirus pandemic and are living in a strict biosecure ‘bubble’ in Tokyo.

Fans are banned and athletes, who are tested daily and must wear masks when not competing, training, eating or sleeping, are under the constant threat of a positive test ending their Games.

Games saved ‘for the athletes’
Biles is not the only big name at the Olympics to admit to problems: Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka returned to action in Tokyo after a break to benefit her mental health.

Bach said a number of initiatives had been put in place to support athletes, insisting that the Covid-postponed 2020 Games had been saved from cancellation for the competitors’ sake.

“We decided at the time not to cancel the Games, not to draw on the insurance we had at the time, but on the contrary to invest even more money to make the Games happen for the athletes,” Bach said.

“At this moment in time where we can be very satisfied because the reaction of the athletes is overwhelming,” he added.

Despite months of poor polling for the Olympics, and scattered protests including during the opening ceremony, Bach insisted the Japanese public were “embracing the Games very much”, pointing to positive viewing figures.

He said the event’s nearly $15 billion cost, including a $2.6 billion in postponement expenses, included long-term investments such as new venues that would “leave a great legacy to the people of Japan”.

But Bach said organisers must remain on their guard against the coronavirus. Daily Games-related cases rose to a high of 27 on Friday, coinciding with record infections in Tokyo and Japan.

“We have to be alert every day. We cannot say now after day seven of the Olympic Games that this fight against the virus is over,” Bach said.

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