Joanne O’Riordan: Simone Biles shows quitting can be good for you

American gymnast took the right option to protect her mental and physical health

Simone Biles: withdrew from five gymnastic events before returning to claim a bronze medal in the Women’s Balance Beam Final at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty

Simone Biles: withdrew from five gymnastic events before returning to claim a bronze medal in the Women’s Balance Beam Final at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty

 

If there’s one thing in life I recommend, it’s giving up when something is affecting your life so badly that you can’t even function, and it consumes your life, eventually debilitating you and leaving you unable to exist. This is a sports column, so naturally, this probably isn’t even the best advice.

But, Simone Biles captured precisely how it feels when your body is so filled with anxiety and fear that you can no longer function outside your own realm. I’m sure when you, or anyone else, declares yourself the greatest of all time, it actually becomes a burden rather than a privilege.

Even if you declare yourself the best ham and cheese toastie maker, the abnormal pressure that comes with that must be horrific. Maintaining that standard every day for months and for years must take its toll, even if it’s not visible to the average person.

Those surrounding you, those watching you, those judging you, all know that one slip up could cost you. For some, it’s a job, it’s the right to make good ham and cheese toasties, but for the likes of Biles, it’s years of effort, blood, sweat and tears all gone down the drain.

That’s a burden, no matter who you are. And eventually, those forced standards can cripple you.

So, here we are, on hour God knows what, waiting for Biles to throw herself off the vault. The first notification that popped up on my phone questioned whether she would do the Yurchenko Double Pike. A pike so dangerous, judges scored her lowly for fear others would attempt it, potentially causing severe injury and possibly death.

Biles could do it, but she didn’t do much. In fact, midway through the air, her brain and body inexplicably just disconnected. One wrong move, and she could have done some serious harm. One extra twist or one centimetre to the left or right, and she could’ve been in big trouble.

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And then Biles, with the global audience on her watching in confusion, said no more, I’m out. The exact same thing was done by Naomi Osaka two months ago. The very same thing saw swimmer Simone Manuel drive herself to near-paralysis after she overtrained.

Eventually, it came out the greatest gymnast of all time was suffering from the twisties, something similar to the yips in golf but more dangerous for gymnasts.

One by one, she pulled out of each individual event that basically involved twisting in mid-air. The messages of support came flooding in one by one, but some people were calling her a quitter, a fraud, a failure, you name it.

Biles has had so many physical injuries, she has said in past interviews she does not know what it’s like to be pain-free. In fact, if she’s not in pain, it’s pretty unusual. But this injury was Biles versus Herself, and that’s one thing none of us have adequately experienced with a global spotlight upon us.

Unclear mind

Having an unclear mind during gymnastics can be the difference between life and death. Melanie Coleman, a Southern Connecticut State gymnast, died in 2019 after suffering a serious spinal cord injury when she slipped off the uneven bars. A split-second move caused permanent damage. A split-second move while your mind is elsewhere could cause death.

Most of the vocal and prominent Biles critics really don’t care about women’s gymnastics or the Olympics or mental health. Some of these people were crying out for gyms to be opened during the lockdown as exercise was deemed to be the giant depression killer. All these people did was start new culture-war outrages, as they do every single week about every single topic.

Biles, a prominent, outspoken, successful and gifted black woman, was the perfect target for these opportunists’ next performance. It could’ve been Dr Seuss or the Cork ladies football team or the Milwaukee Bucks. These people just needed an excuse to do their part and get the cheers and outrage that boosts their craft.

Biles started a great conversation on how best to protect your space and who you need to share your space with. She hopefully inspired more people to just stand up and say they need to do the same.

I’m pro-quitting. In fact, this is a quitting-positive safe space. If you’re doing something and you decide “I don’t like this” or “I don’t want to do this” and you’ve properly thought it through, by all means, you should quit.

Quitting is awesome. Grinding only works in video games, and even at that, life is endless, and you can respawn a hundred more times.

It’s time we start to embrace the power of “Y’know what? Screw this” and see how it can improve your life. The best psychologist I ever met said that there’s no such thing as “have to”. If the cons outweigh the pros, you have to ask yourself what’s really necessary. Just choose wisely.

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