Okay. I’m sure that in the days ahead Simone Biles will take some heat from the Internet trolls out there for her decision to opt out of competing in the Olympics for the women’s team gymnastics title. After all, this is one of the premier events at the COVID games and Biles is (dare I say it?) the greatest of all time in this sport.
And Americans can’t agree on much these days—except for our desire to see our Olympians kick ass.
I’ll admit that when I first heard the news early this am (and not via NBC which has pretty much stopped even pretending to have a news organization) I was shocked, surprised and disappointed.
Well, I guess Simone Biles is human like all the rest of us.
And if this development shines some much needed light on the pressures and mental health issues facing athletes and others then good for her.
Here’s from Yahoo Sports describing the scene after her less than stellar performance:
“At the side of the vault her teammates covered their mouths in shock. That wasn’t a Simone Biles vault. It was easily her worst attempt in a decade, at least. What was it? What was happening?
Before the judges even tallied a shockingly low 13.766 — a full 1.2 below her qualifying mark, Biles knew she was done. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t perform. She could injure herself, sure, but she, the Great Simone Biles, was suddenly useless as a gymnast.
Her score was dragging down the team. It was .540 below any of her teammates. It was 0.700 below any of the Russians. She was the worst one, by a lot.
It was so low it staked the Russians to a 1.067 lead — a huge number in gymnastics. It’s the kind of gap the Americans would struggle to overcome even if they had Simone Biles at her very best.
“I was like, ‘I am not in the right headspace,’” Biles said. “I am not going to lose a medal for this country and these girls because they’ve worked way too hard to have me go out there and lose a medal.”
She nearly broke into tears, consulted a USA Gymnastics doctor, briefly left the arena floor and then came back, pulled the wraps off her wrists she was set to use on the uneven bars and told her teammates to go win a medal.
Simone Biles pulled herself out of competition.
“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events not believing in myself,” Biles said. “So I thought it was better to take a step back and let these other girls do the job.
“And they did.”
And more from Yahoo Sports:
She tried to describe what she had gone through. She wanted these Olympics to be for her and her teammates, not for her sponsors, not for USA Gymnastics, not for the U.S. Olympic Committee, not for the expectations of the world.
“I felt pretty comfortable coming into the Olympic Games and then I don’t know what happened,” she said. “ … You wind up in a stressful situation and you don’t know how to handle all those emotions.”
Suddenly, it all crumbled and there was nothing she could do to stop the slide. Even if it didn’t make sense, even as everyone told her otherwise, she couldn’t shake her feelings, couldn’t beat back the demons.
“These Olympic Games, I wanted it to be about myself,” Biles said, her voice suddenly catching and tears rolling out of her eyes. “And I came in and I felt I was still doing it for other people, and it hurts my heart that doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people.”
Her teammates put arms on her shoulders. They tried to prop her up, but here she was, one of the most famous and popular and celebrated people in the world, standing raw and vulnerable and honest.
She knows plenty of people won’t understand, but that’s what got her here in the first place.
“You are still too concerned about what everyone else is going to say, the internet,” Biles said.
So she decided she would have to be more than a gymnast, even here during the biggest gymnastics meet of them all. She had to take care of herself.
She didn’t quit on her team. She quit, she said, and saved the team.
“What was best for me was what was best for the team,” she said.
She was set to talk to professionals on Wednesday morning. After that, a day off from training that she seemed to covet. Will she be back Thursday for the all-around competition? What about the four individual finals she qualified to be in? Will she be back, ever?
She couldn’t say, for sure. At that moment, it wasn’t important.
First things first.
“Fighting,” Simone Biles said, “all those demons.”
Let’s be honest about this. There are only a handful of people in the world who can relate to what Biles and others like her (think Naomi Osaka) have to face. For instance, I’m pretty good at sitting on my couch every afternoon and taking a nap. But the greatest napper of all time—hardly.
So the Olympic Games will go on, and it’s possible that Biles will return for the individual medal events later this week.
But regardless. If her actions in Tokyo help athletes—especially younger ones—face and overcome all those demons, then for the GOAT, this might be her greatest victory ever.