This week, on July 27, superstar U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles decided to remove herself from the team finals of the Olympic gymnastics competition, and on Wednesday announced that she would not be competing in the individual all-around competition held Thursday. The 36-time medalist decided to withdraw from the competition for “mental-health reasons,” causing controversy and spurring debate among fans around the U.S. and beyond about whether or not her decision was warranted.
On one side, there are those who argue that Biles’ withdrawal from the two competitions was selfish, and that she shouldn’t have sacrificed her country’s chances at a gold medal simply because she was “nervous.” Those critics cite their own experiences with “butterflies” and being nervous about competitions in their own lives as reasons why Biles should have ignored her nerves and continued to compete. Some even pointed toward Biles’ age as a catalyst in her decision, saying that the younger generation is “soft” and that they can’t push through adversity like prior generations did.
But Biles isn’t just a regular person with nerves. Widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles has won 27 gold medals in her career, and has dominated the competition since her international debut. Biles has become such a skilled gymnast that judges have actually had to start bending the rules against her to make meets more competitive, and she has begun attempting gymnastic feats that have never been imagined before. She simply isn’t like any other gymnast the world has ever seen.
This doesn’t mean that she hasn’t faced her fair share of high pressure situations. Beginning in 2013 at the age of 16, Biles began competing at the World championships. Obviously, being at a competition of that magnitude at such a young age, she was under a lot of stress. This time around, however, Biles said it was different. Biles was quoted as saying, “I just don’t trust myself as much as I used to. I don’t know if it’s age, but I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics.”
Her nerves can likely be attributed to the astronomical pressure put on her to perform at her peak level in these Olympics. The hype around her outstanding performances and record-setting numbers had many expecting Biles to repeat as a gold medal winner in both the team and individual events in this year’s Games. With the margin of error being so slim, Biles couldn’t afford to make a single mistake without potentially facing ridicule from thousands of fans worldwide.
Another concern for the gymnast was an idea known as “the twisties.” Common in sports like diving and gymnastics, the twisties are a phenomenon in which an athlete is simply not in the right mindset, often feeling like their bodies just simply aren’t performing the movements their brains are trying to attempt. In these kinds of sports, where twisting and flipping are vital in obtaining points, the twisties can make it very difficult to compete, and extremely frustrating for the athlete. From a non-competitive standpoint, the twisties can be extremely dangerous, as a wrong twist or flip can result in serious injury.
On Tuesday, it seemed as though Biles may have been experiencing a case of the famed twisties, as she scored her lowest score on the vault competition in her career, making a fairly large mistake in an event in which she has been flawless over the years. Shortly after this event was when she made the call to remove herself from the team competition, later announcing that she would not compete in the individual competition. Team USA still finished with a silver medal, however, and American gymnast Sunisa Lee claimed gold in the individual competition; her first individual gold in the Olympics.
Even with Biles’ removal of herself from competition, the team was still able to claim a medal, and a new American gymnast was able to win gold in the individual competition, which likely wouldn’t have been possible if Biles had decided to compete. At this point, Biles has nothing more to prove. She is already the most accomplished female gymnast in history, and is having to create new skills and perform new stunts to keep the competitions interesting. Whether Biles removed herself from this year’s Olympics for safety reasons or simply because she didn’t want to compete with the tremendous pressure placed upon her, the decision was hers to make, and we need not ridicule her for taking a step to protect her mental health and possibly her physical health in the process.
James Townsend is a rising senior at Saucon Valley High School. He plans on going to college with a major in communications, and is interested in gaining experience in the field through writing for Saucon Source. James believes that the ideas and viewpoints of teenagers are rarely shown and often underappreciated in today’s news business. As a teen, he thinks that the thoughts of teenagers about current events are ever-so-important as younger people begin to become more active in politics and other national issues. In addition to reporting on the school he offers his own opinions about what it is like to be a teenager living through different current events, and hopes to present a fresh perspective for readers.