Simone Biles: Beyond being the GOAT in Gymnastics

Simone Biles: Beyond being the GOAT in Gymnastics

by August 14, 2021 0 comments

“The world wants everything from Simone Biles, and she keeps on giving it,” Louise Radnofy wrote in a Wall Street Journal article profiling the prolific gymnast on July 13, 2021. Two weeks later, Biles, expected to sweep the Gold Medals at the Tokyo Olympics, withdrew from the team competitions after an unprecedented vault performance.

Biles left the floor, and an announcement was made she would not continue in the team competition. A short time later, she returned to the floor, hugged her three teammates while apologizing and offering words of encouragement. Due to the fact, the competition had already started, Team USA was unable to replace Biles, so the three gymnasts left in the competition gave it their all and won the Silver Medal.

There is no arguing Simone Biles is the greatest female gymnast of all time, and she continued to cement her legacy at the Olympic games, even though she only competed in two events. In addition, she opened the dialogue that is often ignored or swept under the rug, athletes’ mental health wellness.

What Happened During the Vault?

Simone pulling out of the team competition brought a frenzy of feedback – from the media, gymnastic analysts, Olympic athletes of the past and present, and support from athletes all across the entire sports world spectrum. Of course, sadly, there was also an onslaught of negative and discouraging remarks. But, when all was said and done, Simone Biles exemplified the importance of putting herself, her mental and physical health, and her teammates above performing for all of those who expected her to and “going for the gold.”

During the post-event press conference, Biles did her best to explain what happened during the vault exercise. She said she wasn’t in the right headspace and her mind disconnected from her body while she was in the air. This could have had a devastating ending and probably would have if it weren’t for the experience of this elite gymnast.

Comparing Simone Biles and Kerri Strug

This wasn’t a good enough reason for many skeptics. They compared her to Kerri Strug, who famously injured herself and competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics. As a result, videos resurfaced of the event in which Strug broke her ankle in the first vault and was strongly “encouraged” to perform her second vault to “get the gold,”; even though the USA had already cemented the Gold Medal.

In retrospect, watching Strug’s vault 25 years later is actually painful and cringeworthy to watch the young athlete suffer needlessly. That injury forced Strug’s retirement, which rang true for many athletes who followed Strug.

Is there really a comparison? In one event, an athlete had an abusive and overbearing coach forcing her to compete hurt, needlessly, and ending her career. In the other event, an athlete takes the reigns of her own mental and physical health to prevent injury and not be a liability to her team’s chance of medaling. This is like comparing apples to oranges but shows how far the sport has come in recent years.

Facing the Backlash

Simone Biles approached the scrutiny and backlash head-on and opened herself up to the world about the feelings she was experiencing. Biles explained the pressure she felt entering the games, that she really didn’t know she was carrying. For the first time, she wasn’t enjoying the sport she loved, and she was in a terrible spot jeopardizing her future. This combination wasn’t worth the risk to not only her physical well-being but her mental well-being as well.

She also shared videos of her continued daily practices on her Instagram stories and held a question and answer session to better explain to her fans what she was going through with the gymnast community calls “the twisties.” She explained the disconnect while in the air. She has experienced them before. In the past, it has taken her at least two weeks to overcome the mental block she can not prevent. Biles was overwhelmed and extremely thankful for the support she received, and she never realized before that she is more than “Simone Biles, the GOAT gymnast.”

During every competition, Biles was there in the stadium with her teammates. When she could, she cheered them on from the floor, and when she wasn’t allowed on the floor, she could be found cheering in the stands. Each one of her teammates placed either silver or gold in the individual events, and she was there to celebrate with them.

As she withdrew from each event, it was only after evaluation that she determined it wasn’t safe for her to compete. It wasn’t for lack of trying; she couldn’t compete; it was for her safety and well-being.

The Balance Beam

On August 3, Biles was able to compete in the final event of the Tokyo Olympics, the balance beam. She said later in an interview that she could do the balance beam as it didn’t involve any twisting in the air. Biles scored an even 14.000 in the competition and earned the bronze medal. This is her seventh Olympic medal, tying her with Shannon Miller for the most ever medals for an American gymnast. However, Simone Biles accomplished so much more than adding to her medal collection during these Olympic games.

Simone’s Legacy

In the five years since Biles nearly swept the Olympics in Rio, she has achieved so much growth in almost all aspects of her life. She learned to overcome young in life before her grandparents adopted her, and they helped cultivate her into a confident and strong young woman who has never stopped overcoming obstacles in her life.

Biles is the only survivor of the horrid abuse suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, who still competes in the sport. The abuse she suffered is one of the main reasons she is still competing and decided to go for the gold again. As long as someone from that dreadful era is still in the performing spotlight, the abuse and lack of accountability can’t just be swept under the rug as it has in the past.

She also felt compelled to go to Tokyo to compete for herself and not meet anyone else’s expectations. She had already proved she is the greatest gymnast of all times, achieving moves only she could achieve, even receiving low ball scores because she is on another level with her skills. It has been deemed unfair to the other competitors. So basically, she has definitely earned the goat embellished on the back of many of her leotards.

Simone Biles taught us two essential lessons during the Olympic games. The first; whether you are an athlete or not, first and foremost, it is okay not to be okay. Secondly, when you’re not feeling okay, it is okay to say so and put yourself and your well-being first. It is not okay to expect athletes to forego mental health wellness for the sake of their chosen sport. Mental health is health.

The National Suicide and Mental Health Hotline


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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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