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Simone Biles Withdraws from Women's All-Around Final; Ecuador Revokes Citizenship of WikiLeaks Founder; Tackling Plastic Pollution with the Power of Community. Aired 3-3:45a ET

Aired July 28, 2021 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Welcome to all of you watching us from around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN Newsroom.

Coming up, Simone Biles pulls out of another competition to focus on her mental health. We'll have the latest from the Tokyo games.

Public health officials in the U.S. are reversing course urging Americans to mask up once again even those fully vaccinated, all due to the threat of the Delta variant.

And a major heat wave in southeast Europe is creating challenging conditions for firefighters, battling dozens of wildfires across the region.

All right. We begin with new developments out of Tokyo where American gymnast Simone Biles has withdrawn from the women's all-around final tomorrow. Now Biles pulled out of the team finals earlier citing concerns for her mental health. The 24-year-old is the face of the U.S. Olympic team, the most decorated American gymnast ever and was a favorite to win even more gold in Tokyo.

CNN's Blake Essig is live this hour in Japan, and world sport anchor Patrick Snell is here in Atlanta with more on today's medal winners. But let's start with the big story, Simone Biles, what's the latest there.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: The latest, Kim, is, I mean, basically, yes, this is coming it's confirmed now, Thursday that Biles will not be competing. Let's just reset for our viewers. You know, one of the biggest names at the summer games, no question, superstar gymnast Simone Biles confirmation within the last few minutes, literally, that she has now withdrawn from the final individual all- around competition on Thursday.

Now, just to reset again, she is 24-year-old, a four-time Olympic gold medalist withdrawing from the women's gymnastics team final citing mental health concerns on Tuesday, Biles who revealed at that time that she wasn't injured and had been competing in the event but withdrew after her lowest Olympic score in the vault. She did later return to cheer on her teammates as they took the silver medal. The Russian Olympic Committee taking gold.

Let's get to the very latest then via Twitter just minutes ago in fact, this Wednesday, USA gymnastics stating after further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all- around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games in order to focus on her mental health. Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week's individual event finals.

Jade Carey who at the ninth highest scoring in qualifications will participate in her place in the all-around. We wholeheartedly support Simone's decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well- being. Her courage shows yet again why she is a role model for so many. In the meantime, Biles speaking after withdrawal on Tuesday. Take a listen.


SIMONE BILES, FOUR-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a backseat, work on my mindfulness and I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job, and I didn't want to risk the team a medal for kind of my screw up, because they've worked way too hard for that.

Yes, I say put mental health first, because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to. So, it's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself. Because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are rather than just battle through it.


SNELL: Biles speaking out. And I think the key words, Kim, from that statement there is that she is being evaluated daily, taking each day as it comes right now as Biles herself has said on Tuesday.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. The other big word that keeps coming up is courage.


BRUNHUBER: And she is showing that --


SNELL: She has been really very courageous, and we do, we should take this opportunity to wish her all the very best at these times. Of course, mental health issues have been front in center in recent months. Naomi Osaka as well, a name that comes to mind.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. All right. So now the other big story in the Olympics, I guess the place to start is the pool.

SNELL: Yes. There's been a lot going on and many, many gold medals as well on this day in Tokyo, these Olympics turning out to be very special indeed for Australia's Ariarne Titmus who proved once again just way too good for USA superstar Katie Ledecky earlier, she would have to settle for a fifth place finish on Wednesday, this indeed 200- meter freestyle final.

An emotional Titmus with a gold medal finish clocking an Olympic record as well. But, about an hour later, Ledecky back in the pool and finally, finally getting her hands on a gold medal at these games, winning the 1,500-meter freestyle for her sixth career Olympic gold, and first at these games since the first time, by the way, the women's 1,500-meter is an Olympic event.


And a historic achievement for team Great Britain today, they've recorded their first Olympic gold medal in the men's four by 200-meter freestyle relay, the first since 1908. So, those images there showing their relation, the British quartet powering home ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee.

And Australia team G.B. missing out on a world champion by literally 0.3 of a second as well, a day that will live long in the memory.

This is a great story in many ways, Kim, the young Hungarian swimmer Kristof Milak who won the men's 200-meter butterfly final. The 21- year-old from Budapest setting an Olympic mark surpassing the great Michael Phelps's record in this event, an event the Americans once dominated. Milak revealing afterwards though, he might have swam even faster if not for a mishap with his swimming trunks, would you believe, which apparently ripped 10 minutes before he entered the pool. He said, I guess I just have to settle for a gold medal there. But what's a story. Overcoming adversity, shall we say.

BRUNHUBER: Maybe it wasn't a diversity, maybe that was a less swimsuit to, you know, have resistance, less weight, maybe that's what everybody will be doing going forward.

SNELL: You put a very interesting spin on it, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: So, we'll get you back later in the hour with World Sport. We'll look for more.

SNELL: I look forward to it. Thank you, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you.


BRUNHUBER: And right now, we want to take you to Fukushima City, Japan, where the first baseball game of the summer games has just ended, and that's where we find CNN's Blake Essig. So baseball is back which is great, it's just a shame no one was there to see it.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Kim, after a 13-year absence, baseball is officially back in the Olympics in just about an hour ago, as you mention, host nation Japan beat the Dominican Republic to open up play at a Zuma stadium right behind me. As you can see the lights are on but the game is over. And Japan won in dramatic fashion scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth, ending to win four to three. Of course, no spectators were in the stands to see it, and that's a

big disappointment to the people of Fukushima who are looking forward to highlighting the region's recovery 10 years after disaster.


SHOICHI KADOTA, BASEBALL FAN (through translator): We had no option but to accept no spectators in order to protect ourselves from the infection. But I wish children could at least watch the games at the stadium, why can't they go?


ESSIG (on camera): While people here in Japan are disappointed about the decision on spectators, there's also disappointment that big names like Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout won't be playing at these Olympic Games. Now, just the fact that baseball is back though is a huge deal to a country that absolutely loves the game.

Now softball also made its return to the Olympics after 13 years. The tournament opened up here in Fukushima last week, and just last night Japan took home the gold after beating their rival the United States, two nothing in the final in Yokohama.


UNKNOWN (through translator): I really wanted to see the softball games, so it's sad that most events are being held without spectators. But I was cheering on Japan's softball team yesterday in front of the TV.


ESSIG (on camera): Now last night's win for Japan is all over the local newspapers on the front pages of several newspapers, which is somewhat surprising given Naomi Osaka's shock defeat yesterday, but whether the local media or talking to people on the streets, the focus really is on these positive storylines at the start of the day, Japan had won 10 gold medals, that was more than any other country at the start of this day. It's that success that seems to be playing a role in shifting the public's perception of these Olympic Games. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: Yes. You certainly can't blame them for focusing on the good news considering everything that's been going on. Blake Essig, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Much of Asia is struggling with a renewed outbreak of COVID-19. South Korea has just reported another pandemic record of new infections. Thailand also reported new daily case high today, as Bangkok authorities warned that demands for hospital beds is three times capacity.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us now live from Hong Kong. Kristie, take us through the situation in the region.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's a pretty bad situation as COVID-19 continues to carve this deadly path across Southeast Asia including Thailand, as well as Myanmar. And Thailand on Wednesday earlier today, the nation reported a record number of daily cases of the coronavirus, 16,533 new cases of COVID-19 and it's running out of hospital beds in its capital.

Officials in Bangkok say that the demand for hospital beds there is three times over capacity there, that has prompted public ministry health officials there to issue the following statement underscoring how they are under immense pressure and they are simply overwhelmed.

We heard this earlier from the public health ministry director general saying quote, "our doctors, nurses and other frontline medical staff are working at their best. They're more than willing to take care of every patient but we have to ask for your kind understanding, the beds now really overwhelmed," unquote.


Now to deal with the spike in infections, the lack of beds, Thailand has resorted to converting old railway cars into a COVID-19 ward. It's happening right now. They are turning about 15 disused train carriages into 240 bed isolation ward for COVID-19 patients who have less severe symptoms. It has come to this in Thailand during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Myanmar the COVID-19 crisis continues to deepen for months there. We know that social welfare groups have been saying that the pandemic is just getting worse especially since the February 1st military coup. Now the number of people there who are suffering with COVID-19 symptoms are choosing to stay home, or to find independent or private clinics or doctors because they simply do not trust military run hospitals.

Myanmar, as of result, the military junta there is now of resting doctors and medics for independently treating COVID-19 patients. And that has prompted a U.N. expert to issue what he calls a quote, "COVID cease-fire." We heard this from Thomas Andrews, let's bring up the statement for you, he's a U.N. special repertoire in Myanmar. He says "the U.N. must act immediately to halt the military junta's attacks, harassment and detentions in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis," unquote.

And adding to the misery there, Kim, there's widespread flooding in Myanmar, hundreds of people displaced, thousands of people at risk. Back to you.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much, Kristie Lu Stout. I we appreciate it.

Now, here in the U.S. where vaccines are free and widely available, officials are still battling hesitancy to the shot even as coronavirus cases surge. The Biden administration is taking action to try and contain the spread including an expected vaccine requirement for federal workers. America's top infectious disease expert speaking with our Chris Cuomo and answer for those still questioning if they should get vaccinated. Listen to this.


DISEASES: There is a really, really good reason to get vaccinated, Chris, and that is to save your life, to prevent you from being hospitalized, to prevent you from dying. It'll protect you against infection pretty well, but what it does even better is to prevent you from getting serious disease.

So, when you get vaccinated, you don't get vaccinated just because you don't want to wear a mask. You get vaccinated because you want to save your life, your own health is the reason.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): But, even the fully vaccinated are now being urged to wear masks indoors in areas where COVID is surging.

Athena Jones has the details.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With new coronavirus infections rising in every state the CDC is revising its mask guidance for vaccinated people in areas it says have high or substantial COVID transmission. Now recommending they wear masks indoors in public spaces.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: In a rare occasion some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome, and unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendation.

JONES: Some 17 percent of the country lives in a county with substantial transmission, and nearly half the country lives in a county with high transmission, including every county in Arkansas and Louisiana, and nearly every county in Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.


JONES: A former CDC director warning within another four to six weeks --

FRIEDEN: It's likely if our trajectory is similar to that in United Kingdom that we could see as many as 200,000 cases a day, four times our current rate.

JONES: The last time there were more than 200,000 new U.S. cases in one day was in January according to Johns Hopkins University data before vaccines became available widely and before the more contagious Delta variant to hold. Now, the U.S. seven-day average of new cases is the highest in three months.

STEPHEN HAHN, FORMER COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUGS ADMINISTRATION: The key here is transmissibility. JONES: The problem? A third of those eligible to get the vaccine have

not gotten a shot. Something experts say must change if the nation is ever to emerge from the pandemic.

HAHN: What we want to stop the transmission. How do we get variants? We get variants because the virus gets into somebody who is not protected. It undergoes mutation, and then it spreads to a different, you know, additional people.

JONES: Hospitalizations rising rapidly in less vaccinated states, Florida, one of three states leading the nation in new COVID cases per capita now accounts for nearly a quarter of the country's new daily cases. The mayor of Orange County, home to Disney World, saying the area is in crisis mode.

MAYOR JERRY DEMINGS, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: The virus is adapting. The states have not adapted.


JONES: Hospitals like Advent Health in Orlando are being overwhelmed by COVID patients.

UNKNOWN: As of this morning, we have moved to level red.

JONES: Meanwhile, more vaccine testing and mask mandates are coming. Savannah, Georgia, requiring masks inside all city government facilities, public schools, and early childhood centers.


JONES (on camera): And back to those vaccine mandates, President Biden said Tuesday requiring COVID vaccinations from all federal employees is under consideration. This comes a day after his administration mandated vaccinations for health care workers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Athena Jones, CNN, New York.

BRUNHUBER: British outlets report England may soon reopen its borders to E.U. and U.S. travelers who are fully vaccinated with no need to quarantine. The reports come as London's Heathrow Airport publicly called on the government to open up travel to vaccinated tourists along with travel industry to recover from major losses during the pandemic.

CNN's Scott McLean joins me from London with more. Scott, so, if this happens as reported, I mean, this will be huge, right? Take us through what's the plan is and what effect it might have on travel and tourism.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Kim. So, I mean, at the moment travel from the U.K. to abroad and coming back has been a real huge source of stress for Brits. There's a dizzying series of rules on testing and quarantining, where you can go, where you can't. Of course, the country that you choose to go to on holiday, they will

have their own set of rules, and of course, while the rules can change at any point as well. So, for a lot of people in this country, it's simply meant staying home.

As you mentioned, Heathrow airport says that fewer than four million people in the first six months of the year passed through the airport, and in a normal year it would take less than three weeks to see that number of people. So, they're calling on the government to simplify things to make it easier and to really open up the travel industry, to ditch the costly and time-consuming PCR test in favor of rapid antigen test and also, to allow fully vaccinated Americans and Europeans to enter the U.K.

Right now, they can come in, they just have to quarantine and they just have to go through a lot of tests which cost a lot of money. That's not a crazy idea, considering at the moment, infection rates and also vaccination rates across the U.K., the E.U. and the U.S. are all looking relatively similar.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this morning that his government is considering doing exactly that -- exactly what Heathrow is asking which is to have these travel quarters between the U.K. and at least for vaccinated Europeans and vaccinated Americans, but that may not be reciprocal.

The E.U., for instance, has open its borders up to vaccinated Americans to come on holiday in Europe for some time now, but the Americans have not followed suit. It's not that personal though, Kim, as you all know, Canada recently announced that it would also open its borders to vaccinated Americans, but the U.S. still says that its borders will -- or its border situation will remain the same, meaning, you have to have a green card, you have to be a citizen to come in until late August.

The U.S. says it's being guided by the science, it wants to keep the Delta variant out, but critics will say look, the Delta variant is already dominant in the United States. Though, yesterday, a little glimmer of hope. The head of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States said that they are looking at easing those border restrictions at least in a limited way. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: Interesting. All right thank you so much for taking us through that, Scott Mclean. I appreciate it.

From COVID denial to vaccine ready. How one African nation is charting a new course and working to get shots in arms as quickly as possible.

Plus. Thousands of hectares in southern Europe destroyed by wildfires in the worst may be yet to come. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER (on camera): The World Health Organization says Africa is reaching a critical point in the battle against COVID-19. While the rate of new cases is slowing down, the WHO says the continent is hardly out of the woods.

So, take a look at this map. You can see that in almost every country, less than 10 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The WHO is urging countries to ramp up vaccine rollouts as quickly as possible.

Now in Tanzania the government is launching a COVID vaccination campaign. It comes after the country's former president, a COVID skeptic, refused to vaccinate. But his death in March ushered in a new government seeking to get a better handle on the virus.

CNN's Larry Madowo is in Kenya, and joins us now live. Larry, so another example of how important politics can be in the fight against coronavirus. Take us through how that's playing out in Tanzania?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, it speaks to how important politics can be in fighting the coronavirus but also the danger because this involves people's lives. And in the case of Tanzania it's one of the last countries in the world to launch a vaccination drive because President John Magufuli was a COVID denier and is rumored to have died of COVID-19 even though that was not the official story.

So now, President Samia Suluhu Hassan who succeeded him launching a vaccination drive nationwide and will get vaccinated at this hour on live television to try to encourage more Tanzanians to get vaccinated. Because even in the common section of the YouTube stream that is being run by state house Tanzania there are common Tanzania saying do not take the vaccine, this is dangerous.

They're using Africans for vaccine trials and lots of already debunk misinformation but that is the situation in Tanzania partly because the official government narrative has been so misleading for so long. Even now as we speak, the government of Tanzania does not provide official statistics on COVID cases, recoveries or deaths.

And even though the minister of health in Tanzania says the country is going through its third wave, we just don't know how many people so far have had COVID in Tanzania or how many have recovered. And so, while this vaccination drive is important and it's partly because Tanzania got just over a million shots from the U.S. government through COVAX, there's still a lot that we don't know about the situation of COVID in Tanzania.

And all we know is based on anecdotal evidence and people on social media either raising funds for funerals for their relatives, or you see a lot of communities, families that have been ravaged by the disease. But the official narrative is very confusing and this might be costing lives in Tanzania.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. And not just Tanzania, right, there are other African countries kind of go into the same thing.

MADOWO: That's correct. Eritrea and Burundi are also members -- they're the only countries in Africa now that are not members of COVAX, that's the World Health Organization alliance to try and get vaccines to lower and middle-income countries.

They also have governments and leadership that ignore or understate the seriousness of the vaccine, they also do not reveal regular data and there are people who might be getting affected or even dying from the virus that we just don't know. Because there is this hourly on the pandemic, Kim, there is this misinformation, disinformation in some cases, that believe that Africa is being used for vaccine trials and that has to do with where you find these countries in right now.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Very sad. Larry Madowo in Nairobi, thank you so much.

Wildfires are raging across southern Europe. The Italian island of Sardinia has been hit hard by the blazes with damage local officials call unprecedented. Italy has called reinforcements from France and Greece who have sent four planes to help contain the flames, but a growing heat wave in the region is making conditions worse, amplifying drought conditions throughout the Mediterranean.

All right. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now with more. Pedram, what can Europe expect this week?


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Kim, this is going to be an extensive heat wave. And almost every summer we talk about these historic heat waves across portions of Europe. And as you noted, it is not just Italy, it is not just Greece or even across portions of southern Europe. You got to go all the way back to the western coast there in Portugal where conditions have been ripe for wildfires.

And now they're really expanding rather quickly across this region. In fact, Portugal is a tinder box of Europe, essentially kind of like California is to the United States. On average, some 136,000 hectares of land are consumed here because of wildfires. But you got to keep in mind, that's about 31 percent more than what Spain sees in its entirety, and of course, Portugal has about 80 percent less forest area.

So, significantly smaller in size but significantly larger amount of fire damaged typically seen across that region. Now, go towards eastern portions of Europe, this is the current drought monitor scattered about this region, the watches in the warnings from parts of eastern Italy in the Balkans and eventually, say the Anatolian plateau into eastern Turkey.

These are high alerts here for fire weather conditions, and an incredible set up here because the heat is going to build over the next several days, essentially putting the temperatures for this time of year which of course climatologically late July, it's the hottest time of year across portions of southern Europe.

We're going to push those temperatures even 10 degrees above that value, that's why this becomes such a dangerous story for portions of Europe. How hot as it been? Well, look at Tuesday afternoon, we climbed up into the lower 40s, these are the highest temperatures in all of Europe happening in places such as Albania, Turkey on into Greece.

In Greece, one of the observations recorded a high just shy of 41 degrees, it should be 28 for the hottest time of year which is right now. But of course, climbing up into the 40s, again, notice the disparity big-time heat in the south, cooler air a little further towards the north.

Seven-day forecast for our friends in Athens shows you temps staying well above average and even climbing further going into next week. So this is definitely a concerning scenario here for big-time heat, Kim, the next time --


BRUNHUBER: Yes. Not what -- not what you want to see. Pedram Javaheri, thank you so much.

All right. Still to come, we'll talk about legendary American gymnast Simone Biles withdrawing from some Olympic events and the growing focus on athlete's mental health when we come back. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Welcome back to all of you watching us around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. You're watching CNN Newsroom.

Superstar American gymnast Simone Biles is withdrawing from another Olympic event to focus on her mental health. This time it's the women's all-around final tomorrow. USA gymnastics tweeted out the news not long ago that applauded her bravery, calling her a role model for so many.


Earlier, after she pulled out of team competition, the International Olympic Committee said, it supports athletes' mental issues, but they admit there's more than can be done.

Meanwhile, Biles' American teammates who earned a silver medal without them want the world to know that she did not let them down. They told NBC, not everything should be dependent on Simone and we did not just get silver, we won silver. Former teammate three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman says, it is difficult for many who understand what Biles was facing.


ALY RAISMAN, THREE-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I think that sometimes gymnast make it look easy, and that is a compliment to the gymnast but I don't think people realize just how dangerous it is. You're flipping in the air, the beam is only four inches wide, there is so much room for error, like even breathing at the wrong time running a little too fast.

It is so easy to roll your ankle or to hyperextend your knee, or get lost in the air when your twisting, kind of doing a little bit too much, more twisting than you want or less. It's just -- it's also so mental in there. And the fear of gymnastics mentally is also such a big component of it that I don't think a lot of people understand.

Having competed in two Olympics, it is so much pressure. And I think coming from the U.S., where we are lucky to have so many incredible, successful athletes, there is this pressure that we have to win and that if we don't, it is this fear of what if we disappoint people, what if people don't like us anymore, there is so much pressure. And then think about the pressure I had on myself, it is nothing compared to what's Simone Biles has on her leading into the games and right now.

I really am proud of Simone for sharing with everyone. It's very hard to do that is especially when you're on such a big stage at the Olympics and I can't imagine how hard that was for her to pull out today. But I'm proud of her. And she knows her body better than anyone else and she knows her mind better than anyone else.


BRUNHUBER: Let's bring in Robert Andrews. He's a sports performance consultant. Thank you so much for being with us.

You've not just worked with medal-winning athletes in many sports, including gymnastics, you've worked with Biles herself. You once said during the last Olympics of Simone, belief is powerful. Confidence can get shaken or rattled, but belief is knowing this in your heart that no matter what, you are great. A wobble on beam might shake Simone's confidence for a few seconds, but her belief in her ability will remain rock solid.

So, what do you think happened here? Did she lose her belief?

ROBERT ANDREWS, THE INSTITUTE OF SPORTS PERFORMANCE: That's the simple answer, yes. I saw her vault tonight and what I saw was that her brain didn't know where her body was in space, and that is a stress issue. So I look back at all the things that have been pushing in on her over the last few years, and there has been incredible levels of stress, pushing in and at some point the brain says it's not safe for you to do what you can normally do, and so it starts creating some problems to the point where I think Simone was very wise to shut it down, because it was a safety issue.

BRUNHUBER: So, you talk about the different stressors then. I mean, years ago, I understand her father had called you, asking you to work with her precisely because she had confidence issues. Obviously, she's achieved incredible things since then. So is this a recurrence of those old issues or are these new stresses that caused this, you think?

ANDREWS: These are new. If you'd like me to elaborate it, I can do that. And this is public knowledge. I'm not sharing anything that's confidential or this is all out in the open, and I can go over these because they're very significant.

BRUNHUBER: And what are those? ANDREWS: Number one, if we go back -- well, I think the first, I won't say foremost, was the delay in the Olympic Games starting up in 2021. I haven't talked to Simone Biles for three years, but my gut was telling me that she was going to be done after 2020 and have to gear up for that and then shut it down and then gear back up again. It takes a tremendous toll psychologically, mentally and emotionally. So, that is one factor.

The ongoing battle with USA Gymnastics over the Larry Nassar issues, publicly calling them out on the gymnastics floor of a big competition, being a high-profile black athlete in a very volatile period of racist history, racism and that history in our country currently, this greatest of all time's title that has been put upon her, an, that is like putting a lead best on her, awaited best on her.

And so she has to live up to that expectation, manage all of the stress and distractions, try to prepare for the Olympic Games.


Her family couldn't be there, a huge part of her support system. The crowd isn't there for her to connect with and get energy from the crowd. So it was basically a perfect storm. And when the stress levels get high enough, the brain just goes, there's too much interference, there's too much going on, I'm just going to shut it down here.

And I saw it at Olympic trials. I saw the beginnings of it. I saw it in team competitions. It was really bad. And then one vault, and I saw her eyes like a panicked look on that vault, where the heck am I? And she landed and she looked very, very stunned. And that alarmed me and concerned me.

So when I heard that she had dropped out of the competition due to fear and safety issues, and I was really proud of her for doing it, because that is a courageous thing to do.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, that is exactly it. Were you surprised though that she was so honest? I mean, the USA gymnastics said that there was a medical issue, so, you know, it would've been quite easy for her to say I tweaked my hamstring or something, but she chose to admit that it was a mental issue. Does that signal to you that athletes seem to be more comfortable talking about mental health issues? This is coming in the context of Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open, for instance. These mental health issues, five, ten years ago, they were taboo.

ANDREWS: Well, Simone Manuel, the Olympic champion swimmer, said the same thing, that she didn't meet her full Olympic trials because of stress and other mental issues.

So, as sad as it is, what happened to Simone is going to be good for all athletes, because she's the marquee name in sports on a global level now. And if she can bravely stand up and say, I'm struggling and I'm suffering and I need help, that is going to give many, many more, tens of thousands hopefully maybe millions of athletes around the world permission to ask for that same kind of help. BRUNHUBER: Let's hope so. Robert Andrews, we really appreciate your insights on this important issue. Thank you so much for joining us.

ANDREWS: It's a pleasure, thank you.

BRUNHUBER: Ecuador has closed the door on the fugitive WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, revoking his citizenship. Assange still holds a passport from his native Australia, but became a naturalized citizen of Ecuador in 2017.

He spent almost seven years in Ecuador's London embassy protected by asylum status, avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of sexual misconduct. He was also wanted in the U.S. on a conspiracy charge.

Assange is now in prison in the U.K. for violating his bail conditions. His lawyer plans to appeal the citizenship ruling in Ecuador.

All right, still ahead on CNN Newsroom, making waves by riding them. Now one man is using his schools on the water to fight plastic pollution around the globe. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: It's a silly name with a serious purpose known as the Plastic Soup Surfer. One Dutch man is using his hobby to raise awareness about plastic pollution. As part of CNN Growing Green Initiative, we found out how he's working to tackle the problem at its source.


MERIJN TINGA, PLASTIC SOUP SURFER: The core of the plastic pollution problem is the fact that we're using material that is not biodegradable, that means that everything that is left in nature does not go away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Armed with a paddle board made from plastic waste, Merijn Tinga is waging war on plastic.

TINGA: It's amazing how much stuff you find floating just in the water, and it's all plastic. We need a systemic change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Dutch biologist turned activist is known as the Plastic Soup Surfer, a nickname he earned when he served along the Dutch coast and across the North England, on his first board made from plastic bottles.

TINGA: I started seeing the plastic washing up on my beaches. I felt I needed to make a statement. I felt if people know, things will change automatically. That's when I build that surfboard, and I used that record attempt as the start for a petition for deposit scheme, just small plastic here in the Netherlands. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And his efforts have paid off. The Dutch government has recently introduced a tax on small plastic bottles, an initiative that has been shown to reduce littering by 90 percent.

TINGA: Deposit scheme is very simple. You pay a little extra, say, 15 cents, and when you bring back your bottle, you get back 15 cents. It's a financial incentive but that also creates a certain behavioral change and awareness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As well as influencing crucial legislation, Tinga is harnessing the power of the community to tackle the plastic problem at source.

TINGA: This problem does not start in the sea or in the rivers, it starts on land. There are billions of single cups being littered and even the paper ones actually contain a lining of plastic.

By highlighting how big this problem, is we can go up to these companies, go up to the policymakers and, well, put it on their agenda and make sure that they push forward that change we need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to bring about that much change, Tinga hopes to inspire the younger generations too.

TINGA: There's so much enthusiasm when you go to the schools. It gives you a lot of energy. You need to have a solid basis on how you treat waste and that starts at schools.

If we want to tackle plastic pollution, we need to tackle that throwaway society. And we need to tackle our own behavior. These are first steps in the right direction.


BRUNHUBER: Well, thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. World Sport with Patrick Snell is up next. You're watching CNN.