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Michael Phelps Backs Simone Biles Stepping Away From Olympics: 'It Broke My Heart'

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Simone Biles sent shockwaves across the world as she decided to withdraw from the gymnastics team final and the all-around competition, ultimately choosing to prioritize her mental health like Naomi Osaka did a few months ago in the French Open

And similarly to Osaka, Biles faced widespread criticism for not finishing the competition after her atypical vault where she struggled with the landing, even as fans across the world echoed support for the highly decorated gymnast

Biles addressed the support on Wednesday evening, tweeting, "the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before."

Among the voices supporting the gymnast was swimming legend Michael Phelps, who is working as a TV analyst for NBC during the Tokyo Olympics. 

"The Olympics is overwhelming," the former face of the Games said to host Mike Tirico on Tuesday evening's broadcast. "There's a lot of emotions that go into it... It broke my heart. But also, if you look at it, mental health over the last 18 months is something that people are talking about."

The former Olympian commented about "the weight of gold" the athletes face, something he too struggled with. Throughout his Olympic career, Phelps earned 28 medals—23 golds, three silvers and two bronze. He became the youngest man at 15 years old to join Team USA in 68 years when he made the team for 2000 Sydney.  

But even as one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, Phelps revealed in 2018 that he struggled with depression and contemplated suicide after the 2012 Olympics.

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"We're humans, right? We're human beings. Nobody is perfect so yes, it is OK to not be OK. It's OK to go through ups and downs and emotional roller coasters," Phelps said to Tirico. "But I think the biggest thing is we all need to ask for help sometimes too when we go through those times. For me, I can say personally it was something very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help. I felt like I was carrying, as Simone said, the weight of the world on [my] shoulders. It's a tough situation."

He continued, saying, "We need someone who we can trust. Somebody that can let us be ourselves and listen. Allow us to become vulnerable. Somebody who's not going to try and fix us. 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 being thrown on top of us." 

Phelps added that he hopes it's an "eye-opening experience" for the United States when asked whether he thought the country could give more support to Olympians for the mental health portion of the Games. 

"I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump onboard and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. Look, for me when I started on this journey five years ago, I knew it was big. I knew it was going to be challenging. Five years into it now, it's even bigger than I can comprehend. So this is something that is going to take a lot of time, a lot of hard work and people that are willing to help.

"...If we're not taking care of both [physical and mental health], how are we ever expecting to be 100%?" 

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