I love the Olympics. When I got married, I told my husband I was perfectly fine not getting cable or satellite television, but I had to have a way to watch the Olympics. Both the winter and summer preferably, but I would not compromise on the summer Olympics.
And while I was of course excited this year, it just feels different. I haven’t felt the need to be glued to the television every evening from 8-11, and all-day Saturday. It could simply be because I have YouTube TV set to record all the events I like. It could also be that I have four kids now, one of which doesn’t sleep, and by the time 8pm rolls around, I have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks if I want to watch anything.
But the feel of the Olympics is different too. It could be because it’s a whole year late. Or because competitions are taking place in these massive, yet empty, venues. It could also be because there are dearly loved Olympians like Ryan Lochte, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, and even the sudden withdrawal of Simone Biles. And then there’s all the politics and Covid things and, yeah. It just doesn’t feel the same.
But the sports world did certainly erupt earlier this week when Simone Biles stepped away from both the team competition and the individual all-around gymnastics final. Her place in individual event finals is still to be determined.
And as tends to be the case, people that don’t know a thing about the sport all of a sudden are Team USA’s biggest fan and are mourning her departure. “She let the team down,” many have said. “She let the whole country down,” others have added. But it’s much, much more than that. And those thoughts miss the point entirely.
Biles finally came out and said she stepped back because of her own mental health. She found herself so much in her head that she was losing herself in the air. And with a sport like gymnastics, where serious injuries can occur with just the slightest missed timing, getting lost in the air is not a good idea.
But still, in a lot of circles, the overwhelming thought is to just “push through.” The Olympics is the utmost goal of almost any athlete, and she was there. She was right there.
But stepping back doesn’t always mean giving up. In fact, recognizing that you aren’t the best you can be, and stepping aside is actually a perfect picture of true love.
When Biles withdrew from the team competition, she wasn’t letting her team down. Her team didn’t see it as such, her coaches didn’t see it as such, and we shouldn’t see it that way either. Pride would have stayed in the competition, in hopes of securing additional accolades (as if her status as GOAT isn’t cemented anyway). But often, being the best is one thing, but living up to the expectations of perfection is too much.
Instead of being self-serving, Biles stepped aside, giving the Olympic stage to those who had never been there. Instead of feeling as though she had something to prove, common sense stepped in, and she recognized she ran the risk of hurting her team’s chance by staying in.
In the EDGE program, the educators talk a lot about what true love really looks like. They point out that true love always wants the best for others, and it isn’t self-serving. True love isn’t prideful, but rather full of humility. True love doesn’t look at what can be gained personally, but rather, what can be given.
And that is what Simone Biles showed this week.
Yes, of course, mental health is a serious matter. And yes, stepping back was also what was best for Biles. And I’m glad to see that the discussion of athletes and their mental health, not just physical health, is taking the spotlight. But I also think rather than feeling betrayed, we need to see the maturity and humility of what Simone Biles did for Team USA. And, honestly, it can be argued that Suni Lee may have never won an all-around Olympic gold medal had Simone Biles not stepped back. Our choices affect other people, and Simone played an active role in Lee achieving her life-long dream.
If we learn anything from this, it’s that maybe the Olympics aren’t best for many of these athletes. Maybe the weight of those wearing red, white and blue at home, or those spouting the stats and updates of each and every move, is more stressful than competing again the best in the world. Maybe we don’t see these athletes as “ending up with” silver or bronze medals, but instead we celebrate that they won those medals. Team USA did not lose the gold medal. They won the silver.
And maybe, we start to see true love for what it really is: stepping aside when there is a better, healthier option. It’s being humble despite having a goat sewn into your championship leotard.