Some see the Olympic gymnast as a self-serving athlete. But her withdrawal from competition is a model for how to honor rather than disdain our bodies.
The Olympics always hold surprises, and this first week of competition in Tokyo was no exception. On Tuesday, Simone Biles, captain of the USA Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team and the most decorated American gymnast of all time, withdrew from the team competition after uncharacteristic performances on both the vault and floor.
By Wednesday, Biles had stepped away from the individual all-round competition as well, citing the need to give attention to her mental wellbeing. With an almost guaranteed chance of dominating the games, Biles’s choice models something rare in both competitive sports and broader culture: the humility and courage to say, “Enough is enough.”
Although many supported Biles’s decision, others saw her choice as a failure. Conservative media voices like Charlie Kirk, Matt Walsh, and Jenna Ellis deemed her a quitter, equating her focus on “mental health” with a softness or lack of emotional fortitude. They went so far as to accuse her of failing her team and even her country. Others recalled Kerri Strug’s gritty 1996 vault, in which Strug pushed through obvious injury for a second attempt and ultimately led her team to gold.
After all, isn’t the whole point of competitive sports to push the human body to its limits—or past what we believe its limits to be? Even the apostle Paul invokes the metaphor of subjecting the body to rigorous discipline, writing in 1 Corinthians 9 that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. … I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vv. 25–27).