Simone Biles, the American widely considered to be among the greatest gymnasts of all time, withdrew from the team final at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
After a shaky vault, she decided she wasn’t in the right head space to compete. A former Olympian from Montgomery County, Maryland, is proud of her decision.
“What I love about Simone Biles is she is listening to her inner voice,” said three-time Olympic gymnast and Silver Spring native Dominique Dawes.
“That is something that we were not allowed to listen to as a former Olympian. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, we were taught to shut off what was going on inside … and to not believe it.”
Dawes, a four-time Olympic medal winner, won gold with the “Magnificent Seven” U.S. women’s gymnastics team in 1996. The same year, she became the first Black woman gymnast to win an individual Olympic medal; a bronze.
Dawes said she experienced what Biles did numerous times.
“I would go through mental blocks and forget how to do a certain maneuver, a maneuver I had done thousands and thousands of times before. I would have to get it together for the competition, but it was always very scary.”
When she was younger, Dawes said she felt like she wasn’t permitted to give up.
“I wanted to quit all the time, and even at the Olympic trials in 2000, I was done after day one. I told those that were around me: I quit. I don’t want to go any further. But yet I wasn’t allowed to make that decision for myself. We were very much robots back then, and we were programmed, and we were always to do what we were told.”
Dawes said she’s glad things appear to be changing.
“Now you can allow the athletes to speak for themselves,” Dawes said. “It’s OK to say no. It took me until I was nearly in my 30s to be able to say no to environments that I didn’t want to be in.”
The Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy in Clarksburg opened a year ago aiming to change the culture of the sport.
“It’s all about encouraging and empowering kids. It’s all about making sure kids are smiling and laughing and building friendships, and not competing just against one another,” Dawes said.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that Biles opted to not compete in Thursday’s all-around competition. Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take her place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.