Simone Biles Made the Right Call

The gymnast dropped out of the team competition on Tuesday after bailing on a vault

Simone Biles
Simone Biles and Grace McCallum of Team United States react during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
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Simone Biles is undoubtedly the greatest gymnast of all time, so in a league of her own that even after an off night like the one she had in the Olympic women’s gymnastics team qualifying event on Sunday, she managed to come out on top. Her worst is still better than everyone else’s best. But after finishing first in that qualifier despite a few stumbles, Biles shocked the world on Tuesday when she pulled out of the team final after bailing on a vault.

Biles bailed on her planned vault during Team USA’s first rotation, nearly landing on her knees. She received an uncharacteristically low score of 13.766 for the attempt, and as Yahoo Sports reports, “She looked to be in tears as she left the mat and then soon walked out of the arena floor with a trainer from USA Gymnastics.” 

The fear, of course, was that she was injured, but NBC reported shortly afterward that Biles was dealing with a “mental issue” rather than a physical one. She withdrew from the team competition, and without her, Team USA — the heavy favorites to win gold going into today’s competition — only managed to snag silver, finishing with 166.096 points to Russia’s 169.528.

“Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

Later on, speaking to reporters, an emotional Biles explained that she wasn’t in the right place mentally to safely execute her routines.

“Whenever you get in a high stress situation, you kind of freak out,” she said. “I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”

“I was like: I think the girls need to do the rest of the competition without me,” she continued. “They were like, ‘I promise you’ll be fine, we watched you warm-up.’ But I said ‘no, I know I am going to be fine but I can’t risk a medal for the team and I need to call it.’ You usually don’t hear me say things like that because I usually persevere and push through things, but not to cost the team a medal. So they were like: ‘OK, if Simone says this, we need to take it pretty serious.’ I had the correct people around me to do that.”

“I’d just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out there and have fun … but once I came out here, I was like: ‘No, the mental’s not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,” she concluded.

One thing’s clear: she made the right decision. The tricks she executes in her routines are highly dangerous; if she felt at all as if something was off — mentally or physically — she absolutely shouldn’t have risked seriously injuring herself. It’s unclear as of now whether she’ll still compete as planned in the individual all-around and event finals — Biles said afterwards that she’s taking a “mental rest day” Wednesday and will “take it a day at a time” after that — but assuming she does, she still has plenty of opportunities to bring home some more medals for her country. Risking it all for the team final when something’s not right isn’t worth it.

The obvious comparison gymnastics fans will make is to Kerri Strug, who famously landed a vault on a busted ankle in the 1996 Olympics, sacrificing her individual competition — and her body — so that her team could win gold. Strug is hailed as a hero, but in hindsight, especially knowing what we know now about former Team USA coach Béla Károlyi and his wife Márta’s history of turning a blind eye to abuse and forcing their athletes to compete while injured, the Strug vault is emblematic of an unhealthy “win-at-all-costs” attitude that plagues the sport. Athletes are expected to place the good of the team over their individual well-being, but Biles’s decision is the right one for her. It’s a reminder of the insane pressure we place on Olympic athletes, especially when they’re the greatest of all time. Biles has nothing left to prove, and should be commended for making a difficult decision to protect herself on the world’s biggest stage.

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