Simone Biles’ Olympic Dreams Were Shot Dead, But Covid Loaded the Gun

Simone Biles sent shockwaves through the world as she withdrew from competing in the Tokyo Olympics. But to understand the real reasons why, you need to look at the bigger picture.
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A silver medal should be a good thing. Possessing an award that indicates that you’re the second-best at something on the entire planet should be an amazing, life-changing achievement.

Serious Simone Biles

Unless, of course, you’re a member of the United States gymnastics team. In that case, it’s a stunning, heartbreaking disappointment.

Is Simone Biles Still the GOAT?

The recent news isn’t focusing on the fact that, in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the United States failed to win its third consecutive gold medal in the women’s gymnastics team final, losing by a razor-thin margin to Russia.

Instead, the news has become fixated on the fact that Simone Biles, often referred to as “the greatest athlete of all time,” removed herself from the competition. A move that has the entirety of the American public scratching their heads.

A great deal has been written as to why Biles made this shocking decision. Not only had she faced incredible adversity in the past, but it just seemed to make her a more dominant competitor. It was also well known that, when it came to competition, she couldn’t be rattled, nothing could get in her head.

In fact, Biles had taken on a level of inevitability that rivaled Michael Jordan at his peak. Nothing was going to be able to stop her. Opponents were forced to color their Olympic hopes and dreams in a decidedly silver tone. The gold already had Biles’ name on it.

‘The Most Stress I’ve Ever Felt’

The Olympic Games are already the most stressful sporting activity in existence. Lose game one of the World Series? No problem, we’ll win game two. Fumble in the Superbowl? Chin up kiddo, there’s always next year!

That isn’t the way of the Olympic Games. It’s all now, in this half a second. Don’t mess up. You’ve been training for four years. And if you move your elbow or wobble when you land, it’ll be four more years before you’re back. IF you’re back.

Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park said, “The Olympics is the most stress I’ve ever felt.” Along similar lines, United States swimmer Erica Sullivan explained, “There was a time in 2018 when I started getting psychological help for my issues, and there was a time when it was so bad my coach told me I can’t keep racing like this.”

Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics

Even the great Michael Phelps, winner of 23 Olympic gold medals, opened up about the stress he endured in the Olympic Games, including times when it got so bad he contemplated suicide. 

How Covid-19 Destroyed Simone Biles

Covid took the most stressful sports competition on earth and made it ten times worse.

First, the games were postponed, from 2020 into 2021. This forced the athletes to work under the threat of the games being moved again or even canceled altogether. Every competitor had to continue to push themselves to their physical limits, despite the very real possibility that their years of hard work could be derailed at any moment.

Additionally, leading up to the games, many training facilities were closed. Athletes were placed in strict quarantine for over a year and a half while still figuring out how to train at an elite level.

Simone Biles on Balance Beam

When the Olympic Games finally did take place, in late July of 2021, it was without friends, families, or audiences. These still-so-young people were forced to compete on the world’s biggest stage, with the world’s biggest pressure, but without the essential support systems they were accustomed to having and so desperately needed.

To make these insufferable matters worse, many athletes, including those on Biles’ team, had friends and family die due to the pandemic. One of Biles’ teammates, Sunisa Lee, lost both her aunt and uncle to Covid while she was training for the Tokyo Olympics. The already stressful training time before the games had reached unbearable levels.

Biles Cracks, But Who Could Blame Her?

When Biles finally arrived in Tokyo, it only took four days before one of her team members tested positive for Covid. Another was immediately placed in isolation as a precaution. When she dropped out of the competition, Biles admitted that the overwhelming stress of Olympic competition, the pandemic, the restrictions, the lockdowns, and the climate of overall uncertainty that loomed over everything had finally taken its toll.

Biles described how she felt after making the decision to withdraw from the competition, following what gymnasts call “the twisties,” or the inability to tell where they are in relation to the ground:

“Today was really stressful. The workout this morning went okay, it was just the 5.5 hour wait. I was shaking, and barely napped. I’ve never felt like this going into a competition before. I tried to go out, have fun and after warming up in the back I felt a little better, but once I came out here, I felt, no, the mental is not there.”

Without a doubt, Covid has played a part here. Covid prevented training, delayed competition, denied athletes their support systems, and heaped never-before-seen levels of stress upon the competitors. However, what nobody is willing to talk about directly is the part that we, as Americans, played in Simone Biles dropping out.

Taking Responsibility for Toxic Expectations and Honoring Mental Health

To be competitive at this level demands more from these athletes than 99.9% of the American public would ever be willing to commit to. The true cost of competing in the Olympics–including time for training, equipment, travel, as well as medical costs and the toll these dangerous sports take on the body–is immense.

Now, we all like to think of ourselves as the world’s greatest fans. Whether it be football, baseball, basketball, we’re all there in the stands to do our part to support our favorite teams. However, when it came to supporting the United States on the Olympic stage–the world’s stage, if you will–was America truly supportive of our athletes to the utmost of our ability?

Smiling Simone Biles

Wearing a mask was an inconvenience, sure, but being unwilling to do so, or worse, pretending that the pandemic was made up, or exaggerated–that mindset helped put our very finest competitors at an undeniable disadvantage when they needed us the most.

And Simone Biles has paid the price for it.