athletes, mental health, rants

The Olympic Games are not just about winning medals, Joe…

Yesterday, it was in the news that super talented American gymnast, Simone Biles, has decided to attempt her balance beam routine. I was glad to hear the news, not so much because I’m concerned about the gymnasts winning another gold medal, but because I think it would be important to Simone’s morale if she competed. Of course, if she had decided NOT to compete, I’d be okay with that, too. I think the decision to compete or NOT compete, is entirely up to Simone Biles. She’s the one who has put in the blood, sweat, and tears to get to where she is. And she and her parents (or grandparents) have certainly made financial and personal sacrifices for her to be able to perform at the level that she does. She doesn’t owe America a thing, as far as I’m concerned.

In 2016, Simone Biles went to Rio de Janeiro and won four gold medals and a bronze in women’s gymnastics. She’s four years older now, and at age 24, is quite seasoned for a gymnast. I think it’s amazing that she still competes at all, let alone at the Olympic level. And she has been performing at a level that is unattainable by the vast majority of humans, even though she’s no longer as young as most of them are when they reach the pinnacle of their careers. Simone Biles is the very picture of a winner on many levels.

But to see some of the shittiness leveled at Simone Biles since her decision to withdraw from most of the Olympic events in 2021, you’d think she was a national disgrace! I notice a lot of the comments come from white, conservative males who probably get winded climbing a flight of stairs and are only capable of winning beer guzzling contests. These self-important pricks have the nerve to criticize Simone for putting her needs first and taking care of herself. I’ll bet that if Simone had competed and hurt herself, these same guys would have no sympathy for her and would call her a “loser” for that, too.

Last night, I came across a comment thread on Facebook involving a mansplainer named Joe… Here’s what Joe has to say about Simone Biles and the idea that her decision to withdraw may help “transform sports”.

Quitting is not transforming.

Plenty of people responded to Joe. One lady wrote this:

Thanks for weighing in from the couch. I’m sure Simone will be so grateful for your helpful opinion.

Joe came back with this comment.

Her example let down the team. Understandable for her but certainly not positive for the team.

More people responded, including yours truly. I wrote this:

By not performing when she wasn’t well, she serves as a positive role model to others who might feel like they have to perform when they aren’t well.

I would rather see Simone and other athletes withdraw from competition than have accidents that kill or paralyze them. No medal is worth that.

And Joe, who seemed to be gleefully arguing with all comers wrote,

Letting down your team is not positive no matter what the reason. Understandable but not positive.

I thought about Joe’s comment for a moment, and responded thusly:

They did just fine without her, Joe. Another American won the all around. Another American won gold in floor exercise. Another American won silver on vault. Another American won bronze on the uneven parallel bars.

It turns out they didn’t need Simone, and if she had gotten hurt or killed, that would have put quite a damper on things, don’t you think? Wouldn’t she have let down her teammates by forcing them to witness a potential horror show? No one is 100% all the time. Not even Simone Biles.

And she was there to cheer them on, too, which I am sure was very helpful in these weird times of performing with no roar of the crowd.

Kindly pull your head out of your ass. The Olympic Games are not just about winning gold medals, nor should they be.

I stand by that comment. A lot of people are focused only on winning at the Games, but not everyone can win a medal. If the Games were just about winning medals, why would countries that have little chance of winning anything send their athletes? Why would they bother having opening and closing ceremonies, complete with the Olympic torch being carried? Why have people give speeches and musicians and dancers perform? Why speak about sportsmanship or friendship or competition?

The Games are, in part, about making money, promoting politics, and selling books, music, and movies, and that’s a fact. But there are also many stories that come out of the Olympics, and not just about people who win medals. There’s a human interest aspect to the Games that is important. Watching the Games and learning the stories of its participants is one way for the people of the world to learn about other countries and cultures.

Olympic Belarusian sprinter, Kristina Timanovskaya, is currently in the news because she criticized her coaches and she claims her safety was threatened. Belarus has been in the news lately because its leader, President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who’s been in power since 1994, has a habit of jailing people who criticize the government. In May, Belarusian authorities, under Lukashenko’s direction, forced a Ryanair plane bound for Vilnius, Lithuania, to land in Belarus. This was so that one of the passengers, Belarusian Roman Protasevich, could be arrested and jailed for criticizing the Belarusian government. Timanovskaya no doubt knows what could happen to her if she goes back to her homeland. She just got political asylum from Poland.

That’s just one example of a human interest story from the Tokyo Games. There have been so many others over the years, particularly during the Cold War era. When I was growing up, I remember watching beautiful figure skaters and gymnasts from the former Soviet Union. I always marveled at their talents, and curiously caught a glimpse of people from a place where Americans were, at that time, mostly forbidden to go. A few years later, when I did move to the former Soviet Union, I remembered those athletes and some of their stories. Although none of the athletes I remembered were from Armenia, where I went to live, they still somehow made me feel a connection to a place that was once Soviet.

I remember looking up flags and finding places on maps as I watched the Games and a particular athlete caught my eye. Those explorations always led to learning about other places and piqued my wonder about the world. Although I’ve never been one for watching most sports, the Olympics were always different to me. As someone who loves to hear and tell stories, I always enjoyed the stories that inevitably came from the Games.

Even if some people think that Games should solely be about winning, I think that’s the wrong attitude to take. They should be about athletes doing their best, making friends, and being good sports. I think Simone Biles and other athletes who have put their needs and well-being ahead of winning medals should be commended. Being allowed to compete at the Olympic Games is a real honor, and one that Biles proved she deserved. But no medal is worth losing someone’s health or life.

As we’ve seen in the recent women’s gymnastics scandals involving sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuses, the relentless focus on winning is both unhealthy and unwise. So many women gymnasts were so terrified to speak up for themselves that Larry Nassar got away with sexually abusing hundreds of them in the name of providing “medical care”. And I’m sure I don’t need to get into the many stories of gymnasts who have tragically permanently injured or killed themselves trying to become Olympic legends. I recently covered that subject quite extensively.

I’m sure that Biles’ teammates worried that they wouldn’t do as well without the so-called G.O.A.T.’s performance. But, as it turned out, they did just fine without her, and the United States has had an excellent showing in the women’s gymnastics competition. Moreover, two young women now have had the chance to be gold medalists. Had Biles been on her game, they might not have had that opportunity. They did themselves and the United States proud, and we should be celebrating their amazing accomplishments, not criticizing Biles’ brave decision to take care of herself.

It wasn’t so long ago that U.S. women’s gymnastics weren’t all that impressive, but a U.S. woman has won the gymnastics all around at every Olympic Games since 2004. Thanks to Suni Lee’s awesome all around performance, that’s still true in 2021, even without Simone Biles. And Jade Carey won the floor exercise gold, too. MyKayla Skinner won silver on the vault, and Lee won a bronze on the uneven parallel bars… These young women are also champions, and they had a great chance to show everyone that. But even if they hadn’t won a single medal, they still have the extremely rare honor of being Olympians. No one can ever take that away from them.

I wish Simone Biles all the luck as she performs on the balance beam. I, for one, am proud of her for sharing the limelight, and for making sure she survives her years as a gymnast in one piece. I’m sure she has had many injuries over the years, some of which will always plague her. But she’s likely to be able to walk away from the Tokyo Olympics with her head held high, rather than rolled out on a stretcher because she had an accident. We can’t put a price on that.

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6 thoughts on “The Olympic Games are not just about winning medals, Joe…

  1. “I notice a lot of the comments come from white, conservative males who probably get winded climbing a flight of stairs and are only capable of winning beer guzzling contests.”

    Yep. And, not surprisingly, like-minded white, conservative females are just as shallow and overly critical and perhaps worse!

    • I think the men are worse. They mix the male drive to win at all costs with their lust for looking at childlike females flipping around in tight spandex, then they have the nerve to criticize what athletes in highly dangerous sports decide to do in competition. It’s gross.

      I’m glad Bill isn’t interested in sports.

  2. I think your comments are very wise. I agree completely, I also am an Olympic watcher because the athletes whether at the top or not give 100% of themselves for the love of their sport. Some are so young and the pressure the media puts on them is extreme. I understand someone has to win but they all have to compete and that is very taxing on their bodies and their minds and often their only reward is their own personal achievement. I enjoyed your comments immensely.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I can’t even fathom what goes into becoming an Olympic class athlete. I just want people to know I am on their side.

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