I’m sure anyone who has been paying any attention to the Olympics knows this story by now. Celebrated gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the team competition just as it began, and has since withdrawn from the all around individual competition as well. At first it was assumed to be an injury, but Simone and her team later confirmed it was for mental health reasons. She explained that while attempting to perform her vault, she got “lost in the air” while flipping, and didn’t trust herself to go forward after that. She thought it was best for her team and for herself to withdraw.
I considered this a very logicial decision, and a brave one. The Olympics only happen every four years, and with the limited time span of a gymnast’s career, it could possibly be Simone’s last. She put that aside because she was worried about her safety and because she didn’t want to fail her team, and in doing so, she serves as an example to other gymnasts and athletes who are often told to push through even when it could be dangerous for you. She’s a fantastic gymnast, and I’m sure she will continue to have an amazing career. I think she made the right decision.
Some people really didn’t agree. And it’s been making me FURIOUS.
There are hundreds and thousands of appalling comments on social media–most of them, frankly, from people who probably couldn’t even do a cartwheel. While fortunately the vast majority of people and ALL other gymnasts have been supportive of Simone, the nature of social media means the nasty comments feel inescapable.
“She’s a QUITTER”–this sounds like an insult a child would use. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about stepping down from something that isn’t right for you. And there certainly is nothing wrong or shameful from stepping down when you know there’s risks involved. I’m not even remotely close to Simone’s level tumbling wise, but I have experienced the feeling of losing yourself “in the air” or in space while performing a trick or dance move. It’s disorienting, it’s terrifying, and it’s dangerous. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport, and the amount of both physical and mental strength and focus required to perform on the level that Simone and the other Olympic gymnasts do is IMMENSE. She could have seriously injured herself on the vault she did do, and could face even more risk performing something like her floor routine.
“She let down her team/her country!”–every single member of Simone’s team supported her publicly, because as gymnasts, they understand what she is going through. The team went on to get silver, which is PHENOMENAL at an Olympic level. To see anyone act like it isn’t is just ridiculous. Most people couldn’t even compete at the Olympic level in any activity, never mind be talented enough to get a place on the podium. Beyond that, no one owes random American fans watching the Olympics anything, frankly.
“This generation is weak! As an Olympian you should be able to handle the pressure!”–There is no shame in suffering from mental health issues. There is no shame in struggling. This is not weakness. It is not weak to admit when you need help. Elite athletes are under a lot of pressure when competing as is, I can’t imagine what it feels like to compete as an Olympian. I hope there are psychologists on call. People saying things like this cite stories like that of Kerri Strug, an Olympic gymnast who vaulted on a broken ankle at the 1996 Olympics, as an inspiration, as an example of how you shouldn’t give up. When the truth of the matter is, it’s horrific that she was made to do that vault on a broken foot. Her coach failed her. The judges failed her. It should have never happened.
“Gymnastics isn’t even a real sport/I could have gotten gold easily!”–So do it. Go on. Show me your Olympic level gymnastics skills, random commenter on the Internet! Can you even do a back roll? I couldn’t help but notice that most of the people making comments like this have been men. These are men who have no respect for gymnastics because they associate it with women and femininity, because it is often considered a female-dominated sport. They immediately dismiss anything women excel in as inferior. They are also probably the kind of guys who say things like “women’s soccer doesn’t get as much funding because they just aren’t as good as men.”
There have also, of course, been some racist comments so disgusting I can’t even repeat them here. Obviously unacceptable.
I have the utmost respect for Simone Biles. I have the utmost respect for her whole artistic gymnastics team, and for every single Olympian out in Tokyo right now. She should not be shamed for making a decision that prioritized her health and safety, and it shouldn’t take having experienced being “lost in the air” to understand that.