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Simone Biles and the dangerous pressure athletes face

Ariake Gymnastics Centre
Image: iStock

U.S’s Simone Biles pulled out of the gymnastics finals last week.

Originally, Biles cited medical reasons for pulling out. Later, she cited mental health concerns.

Biles’ decision has faced condemnation. U.S commentator, Charlie Kirk slammed Biles as a “sociopath”.

Newscorp columnist/ commentator, Andrew Bolt was more sympathetic, but said “she shouldn’t be praised for quitting”.

Biles even got backlash from mental health professionals. Child psychologist, Clare Rowe, told Andrew Bolt that Biles had a “temper tantrum”. She also criticised a quitter mentality, claiming it sends the wrong message:

My concern, Andrew, is the message that it gives. She [Biles] gave the message recently that children should know that it’s OK to say you’re great at things. I don’t mind that message. If you’re genuinely good at something, own it. I don’t mind that. But I don’t like the message that if things don’t work out – that once you start something – you are going to quit. 

She made a point about what children should learn about team work:

…I like the message that you try your best at all times. And if you stuff up, you keep going, particularly in a team sport. 

I will agree with Bolt and Rowe on one thing. It probably wasn’t smart for Biles to claim she was great prematurely. 

Olympians under pressure

The Simone Biles controversy has exposed potential dangers of competitive sport. Supporters of Biles have argued that competitive gymnasts need to be at the top of their game (no pun intended), or risk serious injury.

Political youtuber, Kyle Kulinski was torn about the controversy, but acknowledged that Olympians are put under extreme pressure.

Kulinski also called the Olympics a “scam” and, using the logic, backed Biles.  

As history has shown, the pressure can have detrimental consequences.

The tragedy of Elena Mukhina

On Mamamia, Erin Docherty wrote about Elena Mukhina. Elena Mukhina was a Soviet gymnast in 1978 to 1980. 

In 1979, she suffered an injury. However, she was still pressured to train and compete.

At the Moscow Olympics, the then 20 – year – old Mukhina attempted the now banned Thomas salto

The result was disastrous. 

Mukhina suffered a fall that broke her neck. That left her paralysed for the rest of her life until her untimely death in 2006.

The aftermath exposed a Soviet coverup and close calls when other athletes attempted the same move. Finally, in the late 2010’s, the move was banned. 

Over forty years later, the Elena Mukhina tragedy and Simone Biles have exposed the extreme pressure athletes are under. It makes clear that everyone does have a limit that can’t be crossed. 

End of a fairytale

The fairytale of the Olympics I was fed in 2000 are over. 

The Tokyo Olympics has exposed how brutal the training and performing regime for athletes can be. It’s tough on athletes both physically and mentally. And, it can be dangerous if athletes are pushed too far beyond their limits. 

For that reason alone, Simone Biles may have made the right call. 

What do you think about Simone Biles pulling out of gymnastics finals? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

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