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Saturday, July 31, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Simone Biles is an all-time great in gymnastics. With a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, Ms. Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history. She hasn’t lost an all-around competition since 2013. Her five medals, four of them gold, at the 2016 Rio Olympics set a USA record for most medals in a single Olympics by a female gymnast. She sat out the following year, but came back every bit as impressive, winning five gold medals at the 2019 World Championships. Sports fans always argue about who the best ever was in any given sport. Ms. Biles makes a pretty strong claim to that term. She has won all seven US Gymnastics Championships since 2013, winning every year she competed. 

Ms. Biles is also ancient by competitive gymnastic standards. She is 24 years old. Despite her elder status, she decided to compete for a spot on the 2020 Olympic squad. There was no doubt she would make the team and expectations were high for her to yet again show the world she is the best.


A funny thing happened on the way to the medal podium, however. Simone Biles quit. 

After a good, but not great start for Ms. Biles in the team competition, she walked off the floor, talked to the coaching team and that was it. Done. Finished. The immediate result was that the U.S. team didn’t earn gold in the event for the first time since 2010.

USA Gymnastics tried to throw Ms. Biles some cover for her embarrassing decision. They issued a statement July 27 proclaiming that Ms. Biles’ withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified “medical issue” and she would “be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

Ms. Biles told a different story. She told NBC the only thing hurt was “just a little to my pride … physically, I feel good, I’m in shape.” 

Ms. Biles was less impressive than usual in the prelims and made a splash on social media complaining “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world upon my shoulders at times.”  News flash: That’s what world-class competition is all about. There is pressure to perform. If your goal is to win, you must perform better than everyone else and they all want to win too. 

In a press conference after her walk-off led to a silver medal for the USA, Ms. Biles said, “There is more to life than just gymnastics.” That may be true, but shouldn’t that decision have been made before you took the Team USA spot away from another American competitor? Instead of quitting in the midst of the highest-profile event in your sport, shouldn’t you have told sponsors, coaches and family that you were done well in advance? You even had an extra year to bow out gracefully.

No one should be surprised in an era where men are allowed to dress as women and compete with the ladies, all while claiming to be women, that the USA Gymnastics women’s program vice-president called Ms. Biles‘ act “incredibly selfless.” Up is down. Down is up. 

It wasn’t selfless. It was incredibly self-centered and selfish. The list of those Simone Biles let down includes much more than just her teammates.  Corporate sponsors including Athleta, Nabisco, Uber Eats, United Airlines provided Biles income in seven figures. The pressure wasn’t too great for her to cash the checks. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee puts millions into training facilities, coaches and more to make these athletes the most competitive they can be. That time, money, and effort were all wasted. Why? Because Ms. Simone didn’t feel like it in Tokyo. 

When I was a kid there was a saying that adults repeated to children everywhere. “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Oddly enough, many in the milquetoast world we now live in are applauding Ms. Biles for dropping out on the world’s biggest athletic stage. 

USA Gymnastics stated on Twitter Wednesday night. “We …applaud her bravery… Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”   Absolute poppycock. It takes no courage to quit and is most definitely not what I hope young athletes model themselves after. In Super Bowl LI the New England Patriots were losing 28-3 at one point. No one would have applauded Tom Brady if he had complained about the pressure and walked off the field in the second quarter. He didn’t, of course. Instead, he led his team to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. That was his job.

No one says Roberto Duran showed courage in the infamous “No Mas” fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. Duran abruptly quit in the midst of the epic battle. Suffice to say, it isn’t remembered as courage or bravery, nor should it be.

NBC has had very disappointing numbers watching the Olympics this year and thus was anxious to milk as much attention from Ms. Biles‘ situation as possible. Ironically the network of negative news decided to put a positive spin on it instead. Hoda Kotb said, “Someone said it best. @Simone_Biles already won. She is a class act.” 

No, she’s not. There is nothing “classy” about quitting in the middle of your chosen task.

Even down under in Australia, the media fawned over Ms. Biles. The headline in one major newspaper read, “A gift from the GOAT: Simone Biles shows it’s okay to choke.” The story under that headline went on to say, “For a generation of gymnasts and athletes in other sports, Biles has given voice to something they have all felt. She has also given them license to do something about it.”

So she has given tacit permission to any competitor at any level in any sport that it is OK to quit. If you are feeling the pressure, just walk away. Big business deal? Walk away. Trouble in your marriage? Walk away. Nervous about that first day at the new job? Just don’t go. 

That’s not brave. It’s giving in to fear. It’s not courage; it is cowardice. It is irresponsible and the mark of a loser. There is no shame in giving something your very best shot and failing. There is however, great shame in not even trying, and even more shame in making a commitment and failing to follow through. 

In an interview with Glamour magazine prior to the Olympics, Ms. Biles said, “For me, I think it is more stressful whenever I go out and compete because I’m trying to be better than I was at the last meet. So I’m trying to beat myself. And sometimes, you get caught up in that moment. And it’s just scary because I go out and I’m like ‘Can I do it again? Can I be this good? And can I repeat what I did last year, last time, last Olympics.″ 

The answer of course is found in the old lottery marketing phrase, “You can’t win if you don’t play”. Ms. Biles couldn’t repeat what she did last time, she couldn’t do it again, because she quit. You can’t win if you quit. Period. 

Contrast her choice with Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, who won the Olympic triathlon gold and promptly vomited everywhere before being taken away in a wheelchair on Monday. He trained for years. He felt enormous pressure. He faced crazy heat during the grueling event. He also finished the task he had set out to accomplish. He could have quit in the brutal conditions, and perhaps no one would have blinked. But he didn’t. He pushed himself to the limit and won Olympic gold. 

That took courage. That took bravery. That is a role model. Simone Biles may want to seek out Kristian Blummenfelt and chat. In the meantime, perhaps the media and Olympic organizations can stop pretending quitting is an admirable trait. 

• Tim Constantine is a columnist for The Washington Times and hosts “The Capitol Hill Show” podcast every week from Washington, D.C.


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