How does the greatest female gymnast on the planet that has spent everyday for fifteen years sacrificing, committing, surrendering normal life just walk away from the pinnacle of achievement? After standing on the stage in 2016 as the greatest ever in the sport why did Simone Biles casually step away from the same glory this time?
The analysis is all over the place. On the one hand, she is a sell out, a coward, a traitor to her teammates and country. How could she do this. She is clearly just a selfish narcissistic product of the I-Phone Generation. She deserves to be shamed and guilted for her cowardice.
On the other hand, the defenders are calling for some slack as mental struggle and or illness is a real thing and her mental well being is paramount over any other consideration. She stated herself that the stress at this level of competition took the fun of competing away so for her own sanity, she needed to step back and allow her teammates the freedom to pursue their goals and dreams. She sad is so casually.
There is another angle here. It was all over Simone’s face after her faltering scores on the vault and bars. The pressure isn’t any greater this time than four years ago. In fact, without fans in the stands the pressure is less than 2016. And yet, in a moment, without any warning, no injury, no physical symptoms, she quits. No emotional despair, no visual signs of mental fatigue or trauma, just done. As if the decision is not that important and will not carry any meaning.
The look on Simone Biles face looking at her less than champion scores was the fear of losing. Elite athletes of her caliber and record of success don’t walk away casually from the he opportunity to be on the throne again. She knows the thrill of standing on the podium as the best of the best. No pressure, no excuse in the world would keep someone from chasing that feeling and reality. But at age 24, Simone is facing the one challenge she does not appear to be able to conquer. Fear. The fear of losing. The fear of not being quite good enough. The fear that the world will no longer see her as the best. The fear that someone else will take her place at the top. The fear of being seen as a loser.
Self-doubt, the sense of having no value is THE most powerful enemy to anyones soul. It is just on display more in the world of elite athletics. It is very difficult to accept that Simone Biles just walked away because of the pressure. Her scores made it clear for her that her failures would cause the team to have to settle for a silver medal. It would be better that the blame not fall on her for the team’s loss because of her failure to deliver on her expected performances. That’s a real and logical feeling for her and anyone in her position. Ironically, her withdrawal accomplished the same result.
The fear of losing, the destruction of self doubt, the deep feeling of having no value is more powerful in all of us than we admit. It is what leads a Simone Biles to purposely self sabotage her life to avoid the pain of believing she will never be enough She invested too much time, sacrificed too much of life, experienced too much success and notoriety to just walk away now. At the depth of her soul there is a wrestling match with the fear of failure. It is a horrible experience and one we all face every day.
This will pass. The fall out will be momentary and analysis will be all over. For Simone, the battle will go on long after athletics. I hope she begins to confront her fear and next time pushes through without the worry of what others will think if she doesn’t just quite measure up. Then the champion in her will be on the podium for life.