INDIANAPOLIS — Gymnasts training at the Gymnastics Company on the southeast side of Indianapolis are watching the Olympics closely. They were stunned by four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles withdrawing from the women’s team gymnastics competition at the Tokyo Games for mental health reasons.
"I know this could happen to anyone," said 14-year-old Maleah Bostock from Whiteland. "But it's very shocking."
"It's really breathtaking, nothing I would have ever expected," said Austyn Dykes, the reigning Indiana high school state champion gymnast. "It wasn't something you could really put into words. I was really shocked by it."
The Gymnastics Company is a training site for the U.S. women's national gymnastics team. 13News spoke with Biles when she worked out with the team in Indy in 2020.
"It's not like leading into 2016 when I didn't know what to expect," Biles said. "I know exactly what to expect. So, I have a little bit more anxiety about it."
Dykes, now 15 years old, was in awe and inspired by Biles' visit to the gym. Dykes can relate to handling pressure in competition.
"Gymnastics is a very short-routine sport,” said Dykes. "So, whatever you're dealing with, it's 10 seconds of bravery. I just kind of rely on my faith a lot in it. So, I just try to remember to be brave."
Austyn's parents own the Gymnastics Company. Her mother, Kim, is also a coach.
"You hope that during practice they perform and do everything that they need to do," Kim said. "So that when we go to a meet, we can remind them that they need to perform as they do in practice. That's why 100 percent of practice is important."
"When I get up to competition, when I get up there, I just got to think to put everything I do in practice into that moment and do the best I can," Austyn said.
Kim says Biles' withdrawal may have been a decision to put Team USA first.
"Go out there and do your best," Kim said. "If at that particular moment your best is not going to be out on the floor, allowing someone else to step up in that position might be the better option."
The gymnasts in Indy hope Biles recovers to compete at her best in the individual competition in Tokyo.
Nick Goepper is a two-time Olympic medalist freestyle skier from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, who commends Biles for acknowledging her mental health.
"Elite athletes have to have a level of mental fortitude that no one else can achieve or relate to," said Goepper from his training home in Salt Lake City, Utah. "But also, at the same time, we are all human."
Goepper said he has received help for substance abuse and suicidal thoughts during post-Olympic depression. He said he's in a good place now, training for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games by staying connected to family and friends.
"Keep the level of like human-ness and humility there, because you can have an inflated ego and be a superstar, or you can inflate the negative self-talk and the doubt, and that is just as harmful," Goepper said.
After an atypical less-than-stellar performance in the team preliminary competition, Biles admitted on social media this week that she was feeling the pressure of Olympic expectations.
"I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times," Biles wrote in an Instagram post.
"It's not a sign of weakness at all," said Scott Hamersly, Methodist Sports Medicine Director of Rehabilitation. "It's something that every single one of us deals with. It's just how we deal with it or how that gets exposed at certain times in our lives."
Even the G.O.A.T. is human.
"It's easy for us to see physical injuries when someone's knee bends backwards during the NBA finals or someone breaks a leg coming off a vault or something like that," Hamersly said. "But to know what's going on — mentally, emotionally — it's just as important. It's a bigger part of everything we do."