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Michael Phelps on Simone Biles and mental health: 'We can't brush it under the rug anymore'

From one GOAT to another, Michael Phelps hopes the mental health of athletes becomes a priority.
/ Source: TODAY

Olympian Michael Phelps understands the "weight of gold."

The most decorated Olympian in history says he understands gymnast Simone Biles' withdrawal from the individual all-around competition so she can focus on her mental health.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to really learn more about mental health, to all help each other out," he told TODAY on Wednesday. "For me, I want people to be able to have somebody that can support them, who’s non-judgmental and who’s willing to hold space. There’s a lot that we can do to help one another and we have to start. We can’t brush it under the rug anymore.”

He also said he knows Biles runs the risk of getting injured if she competes while dealing with some mental struggles.

The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020
Phelps in the stands during the swimming finals at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on July 25, 2021.Tim Clayton - Corbis / Corbis via Getty Images

“It can be overwhelming, especially during a competition,” he said.

Phelps also said he could sense years ago the issue of mental health in athletics would become an important topic, but he didn't realize it would grow to the levels we're seeing it today.

“I had no idea it would as big, mental health, as big as what it is now,” he said.

Phelps also spoke with NBC's Mike Tirico Wednesday about Biles' exit from the women's gymnastics team final the day before, and the mental load athletes carry.

"It broke my heart," Phelps said of Biles' shocking announcement, adding that he hopes her withdrawal from the event will make waves beyond this year's Olympic Games.

"I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do," Phelps said. "I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board, and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine."

Biles withdrew from the final on Tuesday after competing in just one rotation on vault. Team USA secured silver after Jordan Chiles stepped in for Biles on the uneven bars.

"We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we're human, too," Biles said, according to The Associated Press. "We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do."

Phelps recalled his own battles with mental health during competition.

"I think the biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help sometimes too," he said. "I can say personally, it was something that very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help."

Phelps has been open about his own mental health struggles, and Tirico noted his candidness "might be more your legacy than 23 gold medals."

"It's so important, especially to teach kids at a young age to take control of their physical and mental health," he told Tirico. "You guys hear me talk about that so much, (but)if we're not taking care of both, how are we ever expecting to be 100 percent?"