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When Simone Biles quit the Tokyo 2020 Olympic all-around gymnastics finals, she gave many of us the permission to prioritise our wellbeing above winning. 

Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, is out of the Olympics all-around gymnastics final after stating that she needed to put her “mental health first”. For some, it was proof that this generation of record-breaking female athletes just isn’t up to the pressure of competition… but for me, Biles has become the quitspiration we so desperately need.

When was the last time you quit a training cycle because deep down, it didn’t feel right at the time? How about postponing an event to give yourself more time to prepare? Have you ever reneged on a training day because you didn’t feel up to it? If you’re anything like me, the chances are that you never skip a gym day, always see through a race and have only pulled out of an event when you’ve been too injured to move. I’ve only deliberately quit one event – and that was because I broke my arm the week before.

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I’ve pushed through mental and physical signals to stop. Like so many people in sports and fitness, I was raised to think that quitting was for losers and that the greatest rewards come when you do hard things that you don’t want to do. There’s definitely truth in that; we can do hard things and if we always chose to do stuff that we actively wanted to do, many of us would be unemployed, unfit and unmotivated. But knowing when to quit takes balls of steel.

Rebecca Reid is an author and journalist who believes that “quitting well is an art form”. Reid has had a battle with her own fitness regime, telling Stylist that when she skips a session, she feels “intensely, deeply guilty and it can ruin my day, which is very unhealthy. I feel like I’m failing if I skip a class when in reality, it’s a morally neutral choice which only affects me and is totally reasonable if I’m busy/tired/hungover.”

Quitting can be life-saving. Being a good quitter means knowing how to protect yourself from a bad relationship or a crappy job. For Reid, “Simone has demonstrated that putting your long-term mental and physical health above short-term wins is perfectly valid and actually very important.

“I think seeing that even athletes sometimes make the choice not to compete sends a message that it really is OK to listen to your body and sometimes sit it out.”

Few of us will ever experience the kinds of pressure that Biles is under, but walking away is something we can all do with getting better at.

Of course, Biles isn’t the only athlete to prioritise wellbeing over winning in recent months. Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open after citing the anxiety-inducing pressure to perform. Emma Raducanu retired from Wimbledon after experiencing chest pains, which some suggested may have been panic-related. We’re seeing more and more female athletes rejecting the idea that they ‘owe’ it to anyone to compete. 

While few of us are under the same brain-scrambling conditions as these professional athletes, pressure still exists at an amateur level.

Knowing when to stop is especially important if you’re training for an event which is renowned for the mental and physical pressure it puts on competitors. Carlotta Artuso, 29, has recently quit her first marathon training cycle after experiencing fatigue and plantar fasciitis (a foot issue common in runners).

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She says that during lockdown, she started running – “doing my first half-marathon a few months ago. That inspired me to train for the Manchester Marathon later this year but I’ve realised recently that it’s all too much, too soon.”

The pain in her heel, combined with the release from lockdown,has meant putting Manchester on ice for the next few months.

“I need to take a break – my mental and physical health wouldn’t be improved by pushing on and training more. I’m no longer mentally in the process as I need to focus on other things right now, so I’ve decided to run the same marathon in April. That should mean that I’m able to give myself more time to adjust, enjoy socialising and try other activities that I love doing. Quitting or postponing isn’t failure – it’s about being in-tune with yourself rather than external factors.”

Simone Biles will forever be known for her plethora of medals and awe-inspiring routines but for many women, she’ll also be the inspiration for self-care and kindness. We shouldn’t need permission to quit but often, we do – and who better to give us that, than one of the greatest athletes of all time?

For more Olympics-related news and features, follow Strong Women on Instagram (@StrongWomenUK).

Images: Getty

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