In an alternate universe, Simone Biles would perform a gymnastics routine more difficult than any singular female athlete in gymnastics history. Not only would she shatter her previous Olympic scores, but also those of the competitors that came before her and likely all that will follow.
With a beaming face, she would tote her gold medal alongside her teammates on the top of the podium. The headlines across every major news outlet would be: “For The First Time In The Country’s History, Team USA Gymnasts Secure Third Consecutive Gold Medal.”
But we all know that is not what happened. Feeling nearly crushed by the weight of the world on her shoulders, Biles withdrew one event into the team competition on Tuesday, July 27th.
Not only did she crumble emotionally, but her disastrous vault attempt proved that she was also putting herself at risk physically.
This came as a shock to fans everywhere because we have never seen anything quite like this. Especially not from the infallible Simone Biles. Rather, what we have become accustomed to is seeing her effortlessly defy gravity. Yet, I whole-heartedly believe that her decision to withdraw was more impressive than any floor routine she has ever performed. And that’s really saying something.
Despite the controversy, Biles’s decision will not taint the legacy she will leave on the sport. In fact, I bet it will go down as one of the most lauded moments in all of gymnastics.
Think about how many future gymnasts will remember the time Simone withdrew from an Olympic final because she did not feel right. Perhaps, when uncertain about whether or not to include that difficult skill in their routine, athletes may feel more inclined to err on the side of caution. This is a win for safer gymnastics because a psychological problem can be just as debilitating as a physical injury.
However, the ripple effect of Simone Biles’ decision reaches beyond the world of gymnastics. Her absence from the competition floor presents parents with an opportunity to talk with their kids about the importance of prioritizing their mental and physical well-being.
Granted, most children will never understand what it is like to be an Olympic athlete, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they feel pressured to sacrifice their long-term health for short-term accomplishments.
Children need to know that even in a world that glorifies winning at all costs, they will be loved and accepted for who they are, rather than what they accomplish. That is a lesson we can all take away, thanks to Biles.