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Olympics-Biles out of next Tokyo event, sharpening focus on mental health at Games

TOKYO (Reuters) -Gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, a day after she shocked the world by pulling out of the team event and put a sharp focus on mental health at the Games.

American Biles will be evaluated to see if she can take part in the individual apparatus competitions, USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Twitter.

Biles made the decision so she “can focus on her mental health,” the organisation said, adding that it supported her “wholeheartedly”.

Athletes such as tennis superstar Naomi Osaka and now Biles have highlighted the immense pressures on them, raising questions about whether global sporting figures get enough support for mental health.

Osaka lost in her Olympic singles event on Tuesday, her first tournament since pulling out of the French Open in May, when she said she had been suffering from depression for nearly three years.

The 24-year-old Biles first sent shockwaves through the Summer Games on Tuesday when she dropped out of the team competition after receiving a low mark in her opening vault.

She had said the pressure of living up to expectations and her quest for a record gold medal haul had left her no choice.

“We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” Biles told reporters.

“More could be done” on athlete mental health, the spokesperson for the International Olympic Commission, Mark Adams, said. He said mental health remained a big issue and that it was a matter the organisation had been working on for some time.

WOMEN TRIUMPHANT

Elsewhere in Tokyo, champion women made a splash as Australian Ariarne Titmus, American Katie Ledecky and Japan’s Yui Ohashi clinched gold medals in swimming.

Their powerful showing underscored how women have emerged as the most commanding figures of the first week of the Tokyo Olympics.

The Games are taking place without spectators and under a state of emergency in Tokyo, unprecedented measures in the history of the modern Olympics. Tokyo looked set to report more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases, Kyodo news reported, the highest since the pandemic began and a new state of emergency was expected in three prefectures neighbouring the capital city.

Organisers have reported 169 COVID-19 cases related to the Games, a miniscule number given the tens of thousands of people visiting for the event.

In the pool, Titmus won a second gold medal at her first Olympics in the 200 metres freestyle.

“I’m just from a small town in Tasmania and it just goes to show if you believe you can do something, you can 100% do it if you work for it,” Titmus told Australia’s ABC News.

Ledecky took gold in the 1500m freestyle, the first time the event has been held for women. Diversity is a focus for the Tokyo Olympics with women’s events being added in other sports, including boxing.

Titmus and Ledecky are expected to meet again in the 800m freestyle on Saturday, in which the American is heavily favoured, and they will be on opposite sides in the 4x200m relay.

Japan’s Ohashi also claimed her second gold medal in the 200m medley after victory in the 400m medley on Sunday.

She pipped American Alex Walsh in the final freestyle leg of the race to the delight of her Japanese team mates in the spectator-free arena.

“Seems like a dream,” said Ohashi. “It doesn’t feel real. In the last 15 it was really hard, my legs were really hurting but I just kept kicking.”

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