It’s All About Me: Olympic Edition

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Like most Americans, I’m very disappointed at Simone Biles’ voluntary withdrawal from further competition as a gymnast representing these United States at the Tokyo Olympics. I’m also disappointed at some of the vitriol on both sides of the, should she-should she not have, debate. My good friend and colleague Jeff Charles had some interesting things to say about this, some of which I agree with and other parts, not so much.

He writes:

“Now, the most decorated female gymnast is receiving an outpouring of criticism and vitriol from people who couldn’t do so much as a cartwheel if their lives depended on it.”

In that regard, he is spot on. If I even thought about doing a cartwheel, I’d end up in traction for a month. However, being an old, fat, white dude who gets out of breath during a trip from the TV to the fridge and back, shouldn’t preclude me from commenting on the behavior of others who are far more talented than I. When it comes right down to it, they are all there in Tokyo representing me and 327 million other Americans.

Before I get to that major issue, I’m obligated to say that I am a huge admirer of Miss Biles. To say that she routinely defies physics in her performances is, to put it mildly, a gross understatement. Her level of achievement has put her so far ahead of others, that the governing body for international gymnastics, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has adulterated the scoring standards, so she doesn’t get full credit for her most difficult stunts. Like socialists everywhere, they use fear (safety) to drag a stellar competitor back down into the bucket with the other crabs.

The United States has produced a gymnastics phenomenon in the person of Simone Biles. This young lady, through dint of dedication, hard work and the quintessentially American attitude of being willing to “roll the hard six,” is performing routines that appear to defy the law of gravity. She is in such a class by herself, that the other crabs in the bucket have contracted with FIG, the gymnastics governing authority, to pull her back down with them.

You can read the rest of that story here.

Back to Jeff’s article:

Biles told reporters that she pulled out of the event because she was concerned that her mental state could result in a physical injury or other mental health issues.

So far so good. Sounds like she has “the yips.” That kind of thing happens. Loss of confidence. Deciding whether to push through that or not, well folks, the only one who can decide that is Teddy Roosevelt’s fabled “man in the arena,” or in this case, lady in the arena. I’ve often stated that I never question another man’s valor unless I was actually there to witness the event. That applies double here.

Here is where I dissent from Jeff’s article and Miss Biles. From his article, quoting Miss Biles (emphasis, mine).

I don’t trust myself as much as I used to. I don’t know if it’s age and I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun. This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself but I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.

More from Jeff, again, emphasis mine:

Biles chose to be a gymnast for herself. She entered the Olympics to compete because she wanted to win. This isn’t to say that she was not thrilled about representing America. But the notion that she should have risked injury to please people who, frankly, couldn’t care less about her does not pass the smell test. She was right to acknowledge the problem with the fact that she was doing what she loves primarily for “other people.”

Here is what I see here. We have an uber-talented, driven athlete who for whatever reason, has lost a bit of confidence. From Jeff’s article and other reporting, there are obviously some demons she is trying to deal with. Having had on occasion, more than a couple of those camped out in my own brain housing group, I can both empathize and sympathize with her in that regard.
However, what I’m also getting here is a whiff…perhaps more than a whiff of, “It’s all about me.” I’m having some issues with that in this discussion. I had a chat with a fellow Army alumnus the other day about leadership. It seems that there is a cohort of folks who can’t seem to recognize that the prestige of having your own parking spot or your name on the door of your corner office, is oh-so minor, compared with the heavy responsibility that comes with those perqs.

I feel like I’m also not having as much fun. This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself but I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people.

I have no doubt about Miss Biles’ talent and work ethic. But I have some news for her. She IS doing what she does for other people…a lot of other people. There are lots of people who have sponsored her all along her journey to Tokyo. Her decisions don’t affect just her. She is part of a team. She has a responsibility to them. She has a responsibility to sponsors. She has a responsibility to her fellow citizens under whose flag she competes.

Do I believe she should wantonly accept unreasonable risk? Of course not. But she is not a grade-schooler doing tumbling as an after-school activity. She is at the peak of her chosen profession, at the top of Olympus as it were. To arrive and stay at that level, you more often than not, have to roll the hard six…and recognize that it’s definitely not, all about you.