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I don’t want to be overly critical of Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Olympic team’s competitions. I haven’t followed gymnastics for years, but my impression is that Biles is widely considered to be the greatest female gymnast of all time. Her ability and achievements are extraordinary.
During the first rotation in the team all-around competition, Biles had a disappointing vault. She then pulled out of the competition, with varied explanations that seem unconvincing. It looks, to me, like she briefly lost her mojo. This would be, here’s that word again, disappointing, but understandable. Nobody’s perfect.
Biles set herself up for this, to some extent. She’s sometimes called the GOAT, meaning “greatest of all time.” She apparently leaned into this hype, like Muhammad Ali, by wearing leotards bearing an image of a goat. Humility is a wiser course, I think. But again, I don’t want to dump on Biles, who is quite young and the young rarely display notable wisdom.
The thing that is strange, to me, has been the reaction in much of the media. The narrative seems to be that Biles quitting was heroic, in order to take care of her “mental health.” Here’s a sample of this reaction:
- “The Radical Courage of Simone Biles’s Exit from the Team USA Olympic Finals.” The New Yorker.
- “Simone Biles’ Olympic withdrawal could be her greatest act of heroism.” SBNation.
- “The world was clamouring for the American to outdo her competitors as well as herself. It took exceptional bravery for her to step back.” The Guardian.
- “As athletes, we’re told to tough it out. It’s toxic masculinity at work, this idea that we should ignore our emotions and what our body needs. We call what she did heroic.” Time.
I dissent, not respectfully (yet). I do not find it heroic to choke, and I do not find it heroic to quit after choking.
It is understandable, a bit disappointing, fine. Maybe she was having a bad day, though all that we know is that she had a single bad vault. Biles might or might not have done well on the remaining events. We’ll never know, because she gave up.
We do expect more of our heroes.
But it’s the media reaction that is so bizarre, to me. What in the world is going on here? Is it just an attack on competence? Is it the typical resentful, sour-grapes attitude of the ordinary?
Is it the victim narrative? The silly Time article linked above says that gymnasts “are taught that their bodies are not their own.” In sport that “sacrifices bodies, minds and lives for perfection.” What?
Is it because Biles is female? Is it because she is black? Is it because the media had hyped a black woman as the greatest athlete ever, just unbelievable, wait ’til you see her, she’ll blow your socks off . . . well, not so much. Not that day.
So, apparently, the media has to lie about it. To pretend that failure and worse, quitting, is heroic. I do not see any justification for this narrative, and I do not see any reason to dissent “respectfully.” I am open to a counter-argument, as perhaps I’m missing something.
Again, I don’t want to beat up on Simone Biles. She’s had an amazing career. She appears to have cracked under the pressure, at these particular Olympic Games. That is sad, but not the end of the world.
You know, even Mighty Casey struck out. There was no joy in Mudville that day, but that’s OK. Casey was still a hero, just not a perfect one.
But I don’t recall anything about Casey walking away from the plate after his first strike, or making excuses. That’s not what heroes do.Published in