Simone Biles Olympics withdrawal puts spotlight on athletes' mental health

With her grace and power, Simone Biles is certainly the face of U.S. gymnastics, if not these Olympic games.

But in the vault, the four-time gold medalist twisted fewer times than she had planned and landed poorly. At first, many people thought she was injured.

"No. No injury thankfully. That's why I took a step back. I don't want to do something silly and get injured," Biles said.

Stepping back meant pulling out of the team competition, a move Biles said was to protect her mental health.

"It's been really stressful these Olympic games as a whole. Not having an audience. There are a lot of different variables going into it. It's been a long week. It's been a long Olympic process," she explained.

People who've never stepped foot in that type of an arena, may not fully understand the mental and emotional toll of having to be perfect.

"They're thinking about all the what-ifs, the mistake," said Dr. Joann Dahlkoetter, a sports psychologist in Palo Alto who has worked with Olympic athletes.

"They're thinking what they don't want to. Don't mess up. Don't make a mistake. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't let the coaches down. All that is going through their head," she said.

"We should be out there having fun. And sometimes that's not the case," Biles said.

At 24 years old, Biles is a young woman. But not in gymnastics. Perhaps she processes pressure differently now than she did at her last Olympics in 2016, wonders University of Santa Clara psychology professor, Dr. Thomas Plante.

"As we get older, it's possible some things can get into our head in ways that weren't there when we were younger, less mature, and maybe more naive," said Plante.

Dahlkoetter said she tries to get athletes to focus on positive thoughts. And that can be true for anyone under stress to perform.

"If you can see it in your mind, say to yourself I can do this and then do t. Execute when it counts," she said.

At gymnastics camp at EncoreGym in Walnut Creek on Tuesday, Biles is still very much an inspiration, perhaps now even more so.

"I really respect that as a gymnast she's willing to say 'Hey, I need a minute. So let me step out for a second.' I really respect that about her," said 12-year-old Macy Westcoat.

Biles said she's putting her mental health first, adding that "if you don't then you are not going to enjoy your sport and you are not going to succeed as much as you want to."

It's not clear if Biles will compete in the upcoming individual competitions. She said she's taking it a day at a time.