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Simone Biles and the Price of Carrying Greatness Over Your Shoulders

Simone Biles y el precio de llevar la grandeza sobre los hombros

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Simone Biles is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. One of those innate to human beings that are forged with the passage of time through the routine and discipline that sculpts the chosen ones. In any case, what is most surprising about Biles is not her exquisite technique and exuberant athletic ability, which is mixed with her undeniable charisma, but her youth. She is 24 years old and is already considered the best at what she does: artistic gymnastics.

Biles is to gymnastics what Federer is to tennis, Phelps to swimming or Usain Bolt to track and field; she is out of this world. Her routines in Rio 2016 are the faithful example of what she is: aesthetics, charisma, freshness, excellence.

Being the best is not easy. It involves carrying a ponderous burden on one’s shoulders: greatness. This gadget represents many things; recognition and prestige, yes, but also unmerited criticism and, on some occasions, despicable insults.

Unfortunately for those of us who value the talent of Simone Biles, the best gymnast of all time has decided not to continue in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She argues that she is enduring mental health issues and that she prefers to step aside.

The decision is perfectly understandable, first because the sport she practices demands an almost perfect level of concentration. A lapse of concentration at the wrong moment can lead to tragedy. A good landing can become a horrid injury in a thousandth of a second.

“After the performance I did, I just didn’t want to go on. “I have to focus on my mental health. I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now,” Biles told the media in Tokyo after retiring. “We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do. I don’t trust myself as much anymore. Maybe it’s getting older. There were a couple of days when everybody tweets you and you feel the weight of the world.”

Simone Bile’s words don’t reveal much because, in the end, none of us are spending day-to-day life with her. We don’t know her personal problems; whether she had difficulties during the last year or is simply not going through her best moment. Some wondered: wasn’t it better that Simone Biles didn’t attend Tokyo? Now, we probably all know what was best; however, deciding that today’s top Olympic athlete should not attend the Olympics is not a simple choice.

Simone Biles - Olympic Games - El American
Simone Biles during the artistic gymnastics competition in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on July 27th, 2021 (EFE).

Simone Biles does not have to apologize for her individual decision

I am not an expert in mental health, but I am fully aware that human beings sometimes go through good and bad times. Everyone deals with it as best they can. Biles’ decision is ultimately an individual one and should be respected. Especially Americans, because if anyone has been leaving the name of the United States high is Simone Biles: a multi Olympic and World champion, a winner in spades, and likely the best Gymnast of all time, even over Nadia Comaneci. Her success is not tainted by this brief passage.

I say this because some unwary, paraphernalia-savvy pundits have dared to accuse Biles of being a coward and, even, a failure. The audacity of the ignorant!

Charlie Kirk, a well-known conservative activist, for example, accused Biles of being a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to the country.” It is unfortunate that Kirk took advantage of this situation to potentially go viral or incite hatred towards Biles.

The most ironic thing is that Kirk says, by way of complaint, “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.” If weak means being the best in history in the sport you practice, a multi-champion and, moreover, a highly respected and admired woman around the planet, well, yes, it is perfectly fine to raise generations like Biles.

Fortunately, within conservatism there are not only laughable opinions; in fact, they are small minorities. There are also the sensible ones, like Ben Shapiro, who to my taste hit the nail on the head in this particular case: “Simone Biles isn’t a cowardly villain for pulling out of the Olympics. She isn’t a brave heroine for pulling out of the Olympics. We live in such an insanely polarized society that we can’t just let people be people.”

Shapiro is right. Biles’ greatness is definitely clouding the judgment of most. We forget that, before she is an athlete, she is a human being. That is, she has the right to withdraw if she doesn’t feel well and come back when she wants to and is able. She does not have to apologize for that.

We, as spectators, fans or haters can understand, value or criticize the decision, because that is the burden that comes with being the best. What is not tolerable, in this case, is the pettiness of disrespect.

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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