Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles is widely considered to be the greatest female gymnast of all time, and for good reason. Her impressive record speaks for itself.
Biles entered the 2021 Olympics as the highest-profile athlete competing in Tokyo. Given Biles’s impossibly high standards, the pressure on her was enormous.
And that enormous pressure seems to have been enough to lead her to drop out of the Games.
During the finals of the women’s team competition, Biles withdrew, leaving her teammates to continue the competition, where they eventually went on to win a silver medal.
Biles gave the following reason for not continuing:
“This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself when I came in — and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. I put mental health first, because if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport.”
She then cited the pressure as the main contributor to her decision to withdraw.
Naturally, even a decision by an Olympic athlete to withdraw from an event has now become a cultural and political controversy.
Many on the Left are celebrating Biles’ decision to “put her team first” and prioritizing her “mental health,” while some on the Right are calling her a quitter and denouncing her as a coward who represented her country poorly.
I think both sides of the debate go too far in their pronouncements.
The Left is treating Biles like a hero for withdrawing from the competition because of her mental health. Assuming that, by “mental health,” they mean that she lacked confidence and wasn’t having “fun” anymore (essentially the reason she gave), then that isn’t the same as a mental health crisis.
Mental illness is a serious problem in the country, and equating an athlete withdrawing from an event because of pressure to someone who has, say, depression and severe anxiety, is insulting to those people.
And if Biles did cease competing because of the pressure, I am not sure how this made her a better teammate. She is the greatest gymnast in the world, and by leaving the competition, she clearly made it more difficult for her teammates to win, hence the silver medal.
Then there are those on the Right that are deriding Biles for quitting. They think that she couldn’t take the heat, made the entire thing all about her, and sold her teammates out like a coward just because she wasn’t performing well.
This is too harsh. Simone Biles is the most decorated female gymnast in US history, and as far as I know, this is the only time she has ever withdrawn from a competition for the sake of mental health.
That means she’s made it through years of competition in a sport that is highly pressurized and has its dangers. If she were a coward, she would have quit many times before.
I also don’t see how ripping a young gymnast to shreds helps anyone’s cause here. Is it worth it to call a young woman a coward for simply withdrawing from a gymnastics tournament?
Seems like a stupid hill to die on.
I am sympathetic to the Right’s viewpoint that Biles doesn’t deserve to be celebrated, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessary to go out of their way to attack the poor young woman.
In the end, life is tough. Being an Olympic athlete, especially one as high profile as Simone Biles, brings with it added pressure.
It is understandable why a person wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressure and eventually would want to stop competing.
Succumbing to this pressure doesn’t require damnation or praise.
It just is what it is.
But everything is political now…literally everything.
Sometimes the answers to life’s questions aren’t binary. They are more nuanced than that. The answers aren’t packaged in a nice bow, and neither is life.
But regardless, I wish Simone Biles and her teammates the best, and we can celebrate the fact that, even without Biles, the other women on the team went on to a podium finish on the world stage.
Regardless of what happens during the rest of the competition this week, Simone Biles has had an amazing career, and one bad performance doesn’t take away from her stellar athletic record.
That is something we should all be able to agree on.