“You know, we carry a lot of things, a lot of weight on our shoulders. And it’s challenging, especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations that are being thrown on top of us. So it broke my heart,” Phelps said.
A former teammate of Biles also empathised with the 24-year-old megastar, agreeing the volume of pressure on her was simply too much.
“I can only speak from my own experience, and then watching the pressure that’s on Simone, she had way more pressure (than what) was on me. And I felt like it was too much for me to handle. I would say way too much pressure,” Aly Raisman, who competed alongside Biles in Rio five years ago, told USA Today.
“The amount of pressure that everyone has been putting on her is just, it’s too much. I know so many people are well intentioned and mean well, but I think that people forget that Simone is human.
“And I appreciate how you guys said they won the silver medal because I think there’s so much pressure to win a gold medal, and the US gymnasts did the best that they could. They did a great job, and they have so much to be proud of. And I think it’s important that we start saying they won the silver medal.”
Twitter has also been flooded with well wishes for Biles, who told reporters on Tuesday: “We hope America still loves us.”
Pau Gasol, an Olympic basketballer from Spain, threw his support behind Biles, praising her for using her platform to promote the importance of mental health.
“Mental health is a key component of our health, and it must be a priority always. We need the sports world to focus on emotional and mental wellbeing a lot more. Thank you for using your platform, you are a true champion,” his tweet read.
British Olympic gymnast Max Whitlock shared a similar sentiment, encouraging the star to take as long as she needed.
“You’ve pushed boundaries time and time again. Rest up and take time,” he wrote.
Even director-general of the World Health Organisation Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Biles’ decision.
“Simone Biles is an important role model in so many ways, including making the right and brave decision this week,” he tweeted. “Mental Health is essential to our overall wellbeing and we need to protect it in whatever way works for each of us”
It remains to be seen if Biles’ 2021 Tokyo Olympics campaign will continue in next week’s individual events.
“Are ‘mental health issues’ now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke. Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time.
Kids need strong role models not this nonsense,” one of his multiple nasty tweets read.
In a subsequent tweet, he blamed “virtue-signallers for fuelling this culture of celebrating weakness”, arguing the “real world doesn’t think like that”.
He later announced he would be putting together a column about Biles, warning that members of “weak woke Twitter” were “not going to like it”.
US media pledges its support
Twitter was also awash with support from US media outlets and journalists, many of which shared images of Biles with messages of encouragement.
“Powerful words from the GOAT [greatest of all time]. All the love and Support for Simone Biles,” a tweet from TSN Sports read.
Alyssa Rosenberg from The Washington Post argued that “rooting for Simone Biles means recognising the greatness in her decision to step back”.
In a piece from US site Upworthy, reporter Annie Reneau called on the public to “listen with compassion when she [Biles] tells us that she’s not superhuman after all, and let her do what she needs to do”.