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USOPC Commander: ‘Delighted’ Biles felt safe to make the decision

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Somehow, the massive upheaval that has turned the US Olympic world upside down over the former five years came to a head at the moment Simone Biles shockingly described as a night during the gymnastics team finals.

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TOKYO – In a way, it was the colossal upheaval that has turned the world of the American Olympics upside down over the former five years for the moment that Simone Biles faced.

Shortly following Biles pulled out of the gymnastics team final Tuesday night, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee president said she was more convinced than ever that changes geared toward focusing more on the overall health of her athletes — not just the medals they’ve won — were worth it.

Sarah Hirschland, executive director of the USOPC, told The Associated Press if the unused atmosphere the union was trying to create played a little role in providing relief to Biles as she struggled with what to do, “then I’m happy it was enough room for her to make that decision.”

“Whether it’s our organization, the changes at (USA Gymnastics) or because it’s a conversation that’s happening in the community and in the athlete community in general, it’s positive,” Hirschland said.

Biles said she pulled out of Tuesday’s meeting because “I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.”

Hirschland boarded the USOPC in 2018, shortly following details emerged about previous gymnastics coach Larry Nassar’s abuse of dozens of athletes over the decades. USA Gymnastics has undergone a thorough house cleaning, starting with top executives including national team coordinator Marta Karoli.

The USOPC has also undergone massive changes: all the positions of the Chairman, CEO, and Director of Sports Performance have all changed. The Federation has reformed everything from its mission statement to the way it allocates resources. The COVID-19 pandemic that has led to the postponement of the Tokyo Games by a year has put an even greater focus on the well-being of athletes. A major part of the USOPC reform included an increased focus on mental health counseling.

“We’re putting out all the resources that are available to her, and we want to donate her space to make the choices that will be right for her,” Hirschland said of Biles. “We can’t know the answer because none of us live where it is.”

On Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo, Biles dropped out of the women’s all-around, leaving a chance to protect the coveted title. It has not yet decided whether it will compete in the event finals scheduled for later in the week.

Her decision to withdraw from the team final almost certainly turned a gold medal into a silver for the US team. What you do next will affect the American medal. She was expected to triumph four gold medals in individual events.

Hirschland insists none of this matters.

She said, “These are not USOPC medals, these are athletes’ medals. We cannot lose track of that. They make these choices. They do the work. They perform, and we are here simply to create an environment in which they can be thriving.”


More AP Olympics: and—Sports


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