Simone Biles, the world’s preeminent gymnast, withdrew from the team competition at the Tokyo Olympics after faltering on the vault, citing her unhealthy state of mind.
After Ms. Biles withdrew, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team took silver, falling spectacularly short of expectations and ending their decade of dominance. Ms. Biles pulled out after completing only the first out of four apparatus, the vault, where she failed to complete all of her twists and didn’t stick the landing. She left the arena shortly thereafter.
“I was second-guessing myself and thought, ‘Best to let the girls do it.’ And they stepped up to the plate,” Ms. Biles told reporters on her decision to quit. “It sucks when you’re fighting with your own head. When you think what everybody is going to think, the internet…you just feel the weight of the world. I pushed through that.”
Except she didn’t. She quit after performing badly on one piece of equipment and left her team scrambling to make up the difference. Instead of pushing through and perhaps lowering the technical difficulty of her routine to complete the competition, she left the arena and her teammates behind. Ms. Biles, who is regularly described as the greatest gymnast ever, failed to live up to her GOAT status, which she herself has emblazoned with rhinestones on her leotard.
Yet, media pundits and blue checkmark Twitter were quick to defend the move – it was somehow brave.
“It takes so much strength to call it when you need to, especially as a woman – my heart is with Simone Biles today, who did what she needed to do in the face of what had to have been overwhelming self-judgment and pressure. Simone, you’re the best – this only helps prove it,” journalist Kasie Hunt Tweeted.
I’m sure Mykayla Skinner, who fell one place short of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team competition, felt differently. As did Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee, who both had to compete unexpectedly on apparatus they had not planned after Ms. Biles‘s abrupt exit.
Yes, the last year and a half have been tough on all of us, with the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and isolation. Yes, the Tokyo Olympics are strange, with no crowds in the stands and the traditional fanfare. Yes, Ms. Biles faced incredible pressure being the face of the games and the only self-identified competitor who experienced sexual abuse by former national team physician Larry Nassar.
These are the reasons I was rooting for Ms. Biles. Stories of triumph in the face of adversity have inspired us for generations. Remember Kerri Strug in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics? Who famously completed a vault on a broken ankle to help team USA win the gold? Instead of quitting, under tremendous physical pain, she chose to carry on and won.
I wonder, if in today’s day in age, Ms. Strug would even be celebrated. We’ve created a generation of young adults who have been coddled and pampered, who believe there’s more virtue in being the victim rather than the victor. Safe spaces, participation trophies, the emergence of critical race theory, the rise of the Internet, the dependence on cell phones and smart devices rather than face-to-face human interaction, and actual parenting have helped create this atmosphere.
Children are no longer taught life is tough, and it’s your job to overcome. You will fail, and sometimes it will be your fault. Instead, they’ve learned to cast blame on others and the world around them. It’s “bias” institutions, “unjust” instructors, and an “unfair” playing field that is responsible for all their woes. And you should be sympathetic to their plight.
Ms. Biles withdrew from the competition after messing up, leaving her teammates rattled. Instead of excusing her actions on the stress of the games and even praising her for speaking so openly about her mental health struggles, we should call her out for what she was: A selfish quitter. A real GOAT would’ve finished the competition, as tough as that might have been.
• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at the Washington Times.