Shawn Johnson Says Simone Biles’ Olympics Withdrawal Was ‘Empowering’: She Made The ‘Harder’ Decision

Olympic gold medallist Shawn Johnson has opened up about the importance of mental health after fellow gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Games.

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Image Credit: MICHAEL CLARK / RED BULL CONTENT POOL

Shawn Johnson has revealed the mental challenges associated with competing at the Olympics can feel like “an out of body experience”, after gymnast Simone Biles faced backlash for pulling out of the Tokyo Games. “It’s the hardest thing to explain to someone who doesn’t understand that side of [gymnastics], or that side of sports in general,” she told HollywoodLife at Red Bull’s Walk The Line competition in Nashville on October 16. “It’s a very, very serious thing that [Simone] was going through, and it’s something that you really can’t control. It’s like an out of body experience.”

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Shawn Johnson. Image: Michael Clark / Red Bull Content Pool

The former athlete, who was a judge at the freestyle slacklining event held 30 feet above Nashville’s Lower Broadway, said Simone’s detractors were wrong to assume she took the “easy way out.” As fans would recall, Simone cited a need to focus on her mental health when she withdrew from the gymnastics team finals during the recent Olympic Games. “There were a lot of people who didn’t understand, that thought she was taking the easy way out, when she was actually taking the smartest and probably the hardest way,” Shawn said, adding, “It’s everyone’s dream to go to the Olympics [so] to see that she has the courage to step away and let her team be her strength was really, really empowering.”

The mom-of-two, who recently welcomed her second child with former NFL star Andrew East, said the conversation around mental health had improved significantly since she retired in 2012. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” she told HL. “[Athletes] are humans. They’re doing spectacular things, but they need to be treated as humans [and] even need extra support because of the level of competition they’re at.”

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Shawn Johnson. Image: Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Shawn was joined by professional slackline athletes Andy Lewis and Breanna Yeh, as well as BMX pro Broc Raiford on the judging panel at Red Bull’s Walk The Line event, which saw Japan’s Teruto Tanaka take home the top prize. “This is really exciting for me,” she said. “I’ve never judged anything like this before, but we have 12 of the best slackliners from around the world … it’s really cool to see something like this come to Nashville.” The athletes competed in two Jam Sessions, which saw them perform 60 second routines packed with backflips, front flips, and everything in between, all while maintaining their balance on the two-inch line.

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