It’s little question that Simone Biles is one of the most successful athletes ever. At 24, she has transcended the notion of the “prime” age for aptitude in women’s elite gymnastics, and her numerous titles (32 in total combining the Olympics and world championships) are a stunning testament to her strength, willpower, and genetic otherworldliness.She has never complained, despite the setbacks she has faced in her life.
There’s no denying that achievements are accompanied by difficulties, especially some that Simon had faced. It’s usually simple jealousy, but it can also come in the form of hatred for certain groups.
After Biles made a shaky landing performing her first vault at the team final at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, she made the very difficult decision to step back from the competition. Biles cited her fragile mental health under pressure and a fear of continued dangerous landings as contributions to her decision.
And as a result, it would appear that a popular attitude in American culture is one of unyielding resistance in the face of competition, all for the pursuit of glory.
The problem is, glory for glories’ sake or for one’s nation will never be as important as a spirit of peace and integrity for an athlete.
No one knows what’s best for Simone Biles other than she herself and her closet confidants. Many critics immediately accused her of being selfish, an embarrassment to the nation, and for being a quitter.
Unsurprisingly, by withdrawing, Simone has been able to nominate some of her teammates for the final spots, which they would never have obtained otherwise. There’s a limited space and many candidates, so the last people to gain access to the finals were just because they clicked at the right time.
Team USA was able to pull through with a silver medal in the all-around competition, a feat that very well may not have occurred if Biles had continued in the events. Simone Biles showed exemplary character, despite her disappointment, she still managed to be kind.
Simone issued her thoughts on withdrawal on social media and showed a good attitude via a lack of reaction to the negativity from online communities. So what is it within some individuals to have such a disdain for prioritizing mental wellness over an obsessive display of nationalism and pride?
One may assume it’s more lucrative to criticize an athlete instead of praising them, as scandal always makes a great story. But there may be a bigger piece in the puzzle. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found through a study of a few thousand participants that some individuals have a better aptitude for empathy (the ability to truly relate and appreciate another’s struggles) than others.
It has been found that genetics may rule up to 10% of a person’s capacity for empathy. Compound that with the environmental and cultural influences that may cite empathetic feelings as weak or incompatible with progress, and you have a recipe for the disdain of all of those whom the world breaks.
Biles has always been built so high in the press, and the price she now pays is that those who held her on such a lofty pedestal are trying to destroy her reputation. She always strives to do her absolute best, but it’s not always enough to make everyone happy.
There is certainly a lot of honor behind the pursuit of winning and perseverance. Our culture so vehemently celebrates sports’ victories in particular that sports commentators and fans alike remember certain moments in physical feats for decades on end.
But this sense of honor is fleeting compared to the hours of grueling training, physical therapy, conditioning, mental toll and heavily regimented lifestyle of an elite athlete. One viral Facebook post in particular echoed this in its mention of Kerri Strug. Strug was a gymnast in the 1996 Olympic Games, as part of the group called “The Magnificent Seven”–certainly a title with a lot of weight. Strug was practically forced by her coach Bela Karolyi to complete her second vault after being significantly injured by the first. Strug landed on her feet.
Had she not, or put pressure into the injured leg as she landed, she may have suffered permanent, debilitating damage to her leg.
Is that the kind of fate the world is willing to chance for Biles to continue? Female gymnasts have already suffered at the hands of abusive coaches and mentors for decades. They participate in a sport that focuses on the power and muscle groups attained with much more difficulty for a woman than a man. Minor injuries are sustained with astonishing regularity. Many athletes are paralyzed with fear on the national stage.
Despite all of her detractors, Biles is unwavering. Her one falter has not made a permanent mark on her positive spirit of level-headedness. If you spot her in the stands during a championship event of her peers, her voice will rise above the rest to cheer and adulate their successes. On the competition floor, comfort is always given after a letdown.
Imagine if such a champion could scoff at others as much as critics do. Luckily, Biles’ triumph glitters just as bright as her leotard.
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