Olympics: James O'Brien's response to people 'attacking' Simone Biles over withdrawal

28 July 2021, 14:42

By Fiona Jones

James O'Brien's response to people who are "attacking" four-time gold medallist Simone Biles over her decision to withdraw from Thursday's final to prioritise her mental health.

The most successful US gymnast of all time has reached all five individual finals in Tokyo and was due to defend her all-around title on Thursday before competing in the finals of the vault and uneven bars on Sunday and Monday, and beam on Tuesday.

USA gymnastics said: "Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week's individual event finals."

James said, "Simone Biles speaks about her struggles from a position of epic achievement and success and I just want to know whether or not you find that helpful, I do and I think you probably do."

He used mentioned two great English speaking footballers of 20th Century, George Best and Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne.

"One died early, crippled by alcoholism, and the other remains enthralled to some pretty dark demons," James said.

"The media, partly because their talent was so immense and partly because their private lives were so dysfunctional, lionised them on a Monday, crucified them on a Tuesday, praised them on a Wednesday, buried them on a Thursday.

"That's how the tabloid media works. It lifts these men, it treats them like heroes and then it spits them out when they think it might sell a few more newspapers."

James questioned: "It's the same mentality that attacks particularly young women, oddly, for speaking honestly. Naomi Osaka, the tennis player and now Simone Biles the gymnast. What would you rather happened to your sporting heroes and heroines? Would you rather they drank themselves to an early death?

"Or would you rather they spoke honestly and frankly about their mental health, addressed some of the areas where they need help in the hope of healing, and live long and fruitful lives, augmented by this new found ability to help other people?"

James continued: "Talking about mental health helps. It hurts nobody except temporarily, you would pray, people who have buried their own pain and trauma so deeply...that hearing anybody else acknowledge theirs feels like a personal insult."

"If you look at people being vile to Simone Biles, or Naomi Osaka, or Meghan Markle, I can tell you."

He explained that for the people "performatively callous" to these women it feels somehow "fair and necessary."

James had a message for these people: "When I point a finger at you, there are three fingers pointing back at me."