Home Opinion Columns The World is Putting Too Much Pressure on Athletes

The World is Putting Too Much Pressure on Athletes

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U.S. gymnast Simone Biles competes on the beam in the women's team qualifying at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, July 25, 2021. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Kaia Zimmerman

When Simone Biles withdrew from competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, people’s views on her decision were divided, showing there is a long way to go when talking about the mental health and safety of athletes.

Biles would later announce that she was suffering from the “twisties.” The twisties occur when a gymnast’s mind is not connected to her body, so she cannot safely complete the movements that she needs to do in the air.

Gymnasts are usually fully aware of where they are in the air and can control their body to do what they want in the air, but when gymnasts have the twisties, they have no idea where they are in the air which can then lead to an injury.

“For anyone saying I quit,” Biles said in an Instagram post showcasing her practicing the day before competition. “I didn’t quit. My mind and body are simply not in sync. I don’t think you realize how dangerous this is on hard/competition surface, nor do I have to explain why I put my health first. Physical health is mental health.”

The hate Biles received was unnecessary and basically proved her point. People sitting on their couches who know nothing about gymnastics expected Biles to go out and win for them and perform for their entertainment, even if that meant she could seriously injure herself.

The pressure that was put on Biles to bring home medals was too much for anyone to handle. Pressure on athletes for people’s entertainment has gone too far. I think what Biles did was amazing because she reminded us that athletes are human, not just your entertainment.

Biles’ situation pointed out a long, overdue conversation that needs to be talked about, the pressure on athletes to be successful. This issue isn’t just on professional athletes, but also seen in all levels of sports.

I have seen firsthand how kids’ love for their sport slowly disappears because of the pressure that is put on them to succeed. I have watched my teammates, who loved the sport, suddenly look miserable on the softball field because the pressure would get to be too much for them. I have also witnessed parents and coaches put down athletes so much, and that kills the passion of the game for that athlete.

It is time to normalize athletes taking breaks to prioritize their mental health, and there should be no backlash for it. It took athletes like Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka to push for change. I applaud them for their bravery in speaking up about their mental health, even when it is still a taboo subject. Osaka recently took some time off of tennis to prioritize her mental health. Along with Biles, she is showing how it is important to take time for yourself, and it is valid to not be okay.

When Biles withdrew because of her mental health, people called her a quitter, selfish, and weak. Biles is a champion who has worked through more hardships than most people to get where she is today. She is not weak. She is, in my opinion, one of the strongest athletes in the world.

People need to realize that these athletes are human, and you can’t push them around as if they owe you something. Biles is a human being above being an athlete.

I have also heard opinions saying she is no longer a GOAT (greatest of all time) because of what she did at the Olympics. Biles is a two-time Olympian with seven total medals at the games (four gold, one silver and two bronze). Outside of the Olympics, Biles has 25 world championships medals, 19 of them being gold. She is the most decorated gymnast to ever compete. Biles also has four elements named after her which means she is the first person to ever complete them in a competition.

Biles is the GOAT. It took extreme courage to do what she did on that Olympic stage, and she taught people more about her courage and strength in that moment than any medal could show. She also demonstrated that it’s okay to show emotion, and it’s okay to put your mental health and your safety above winning – a lesson many people need to learn with our toxic sports culture in the U.S.

“I’m not the next Usian Bolt or Micheal Phelps,” Biles said. “I’m the first Simone BIles.”

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