The gymnastics and skiing greats joined swimming Olympic champion Missy Franklin to discuss mental health ahead of International Women’s Day
Olympic gold medallists Simone Biles and Mikaela Shiffrin joined a Laureus Sports Instagram live Monday (6 March) ahead of International Women’s Day to discuss the importance of mental health and dealing with tough times in their sports. Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin hosted the chat.
Biles and Shiffrin had previously connected during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games. During last year’s Winter Olympics, Biles reached out to the skier, who shared her competitive struggles and the negative comments she received from fans so publicly. This came just meer months after Biles withdrew from several finals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to priortise her mental health.
“I saw the experience that Mikaela went through and I had just gone through that, so I didn’t want her to feel alone and [I was] like, ‘Hey, it’s OK. This stuff happens. You’re still amazing, who cares about the comments?'” said Biles of her decision to message Shiffrin during the Games. “Half of the time, the comments are people at home that have never even done a sport or gotten an award so they don’t realise how hard we work, and like Mikaela said, they only tune in every four years, so they don’t see all the hard work that goes beyond that. You don’t understand how hurtful it is already to feel like I’ve failed myself, then you have the weight of the world, everybody, telling you failed and all of this stuff. So, I just didn’t want her to feel alone.”
It was a hand from a friend at a time when she most certainly needed it.
“When you’re at the Olympics, especially during COVID, you’re in the village, you can’t go anywhere, and in winter, you don’t really want go anywhere, so there’s so much of it that actually makes you feel a little trapped but you also feel very disconnected from home and from the people who are cheering for you,” explained Shiffrin. “You just feel disconnected from everything. The only connection you get is on Twitter, on Instagram, just basically seeing what comments come up.
“Sometimes what you see is negative comments, you don’t see any of the support,” she continued. “It’s always like, ‘You choked. Don’t even come back to the U.S. It’s unbelievable you could fail so badly.'”
Biles knew the feeling.
“For me, I had a similar experience before with the comments and stuff like that, but my decision was to pull out of the Olympics, so I know how hurtful it is and how much it just kind of sucks. You work your whole entire life and the Olympics only happens every four years and if you get to go to more than one, then you have double the luck,” she said, before adding, “I’ve been in those positions, and yeah, a lot of our time, we’ve had great times in our sport, but those low times, we need those supporters, those fans, to back us, and be like, ‘You can do it. You’ve got it,’ instead of the opposite because we just start feeling useless. And like Mikaela said, it was in the middle of COVID. We didn’t have anybody there. It was so lonely.”
Franklin, who owns five Olympic swimming gold medals, hosted the conversation with Biles, a seven-time Olympic gymnastics medallist and four-time Olympic champion, and Shiffrin, who in addition to her two Olympic titles is currently chasing the all-time World Cup win record.
Franklin was the Laureus winner in 2013 and Biles has three times been named Laureus World Sportswoman of the year, while Shiffrin is nominated in the category for 2023. The award winners are set to be announced in the spring.