Listen Live

Gymnast Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, was named Time magazine’s athlete of the year for 2021, the publication announced Thursday.

>> PHOTOS: Simone Biles through the years

Biles, 24, was a favorite to take up to five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year, but instead opened a conversation about the mental health of athletes.

>> Read more trending news

On July 27, Biles, feeling unsure of herself during a vault exercise, “responded in a way that stunned millions of viewers around the world,” Time reported.

She left the vault, put on her warm-up suit and exited the competition, saying that her mind and body were not in sync. Biles withdrew from the next four events, returning to participate in her final event and taking a bronze in the balance beam. She also won a team silver medal.

Biles’ exit earned the support of her fellow athletes in gymnastics and in other sports, Reuters reported.

“What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100%,” teammate Sunisa Lee, who won the all-around gold medal in Tokyo, told Time. “It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us.”

“If 2020 showcased the power of athletes as activists after the murder of George Floyd, this year demonstrated how athletes are uniquely positioned to propel mental health to the forefront of a broader cultural conversation,” Time wrote. “While a few sports stars have opened up about mental health—Michael Phelps, for instance, has been candid about his post-Olympic depression — in 2021, the discussion became more wide-reaching and sustained. After withdrawing from the French Open in May to prioritize her well-being, citing anxiety, Naomi Osaka wrote in a Time essay, “It’s OK not to be OK.”

Biles “raised the volume,” Time wrote.

“I do believe everything happens for a reason, and there was a purpose,” Biles told the magazine. “Not only did I get to use my voice, but it was validated as well.”

Time noted that at a time when anxiety and depression rates were rising, Biles “made clear the importance of prioritizing oneself and refusing to succumb to external expectations.

“With the eyes of the world upon her, she took the extraordinary step of saying, ‘That’s enough. I’m enough,’” the magazine wrote.