After news that gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the Women’s Gymnastics team event due to mental health issues, famed 1996 Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug’s name began trending on Twitter. Several users compared the two women, with some insinuating that Biles was weak or a lesser athlete for choosing not to participate in the competition while Strug famously performed a vault routine on what turned out to be a severely injured ankle. The resulting discussion painted a clear picture of the changes that have taken place in the nearly 20 years since the incident, as well as a very disturbing detail of the iconic leap that tragically connects the two women.
Simone Biles Exits Team Competition At Tokyo Olympics
In a statement released by The New York Times, star gymnast Simone Biles admitted that the pressure of competition got to her, resulting in her withdrawal from the team event early Tuesday morning. She revealed that she wasn’t in the correct mental state to attempt the difficult and often dangerous stunts that launched her to fame and said the outside pressure and stress grew too much for her to handle.
Twitter users reacted to the news in various ways, with some sympathising with the 24-year-old gymnast while others compared her unfavorably to another iconic Olympic gymnast, Kerri Strug. Strug infamously injured herself during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics during her first attempt at the vault. After being told by her coach that she would need to perform her second vault despite her injury, Strug did so, launching her into stardom. The performance, while iconic and a key part of the team’s push to win a gold medal, also resulted in a career ending injury for the then-19-year-old athlete.
Simone Biles Versus Kerri Strug
Several users compared Strug’s performance to Biles’ withdrawal, with many claiming that Strug put the needs of her team ahead of her own physical wellbeing. Many also incorrectly asserted that Strug’s second vault was absolutely necessary for the U.S. women’s team to pull ahead of the Russians to win the gold medal. The final Russian competitor, however, flubbed her routine, meaning that the U.S. team was headed for a first place win regardless of Strug’s participation.
Despite the slight bit of misinformation, many others chimed in, agreeing that Biles’ withdrawal was an example of poor sportsmanship, especially when compared to Strug’s performance.
Not Everyone Was Happy With The Comparison
Other users, however, quickly came to Biles’ defense and pointed out that Strug’s career ending, yet iconic, second vault was completely unnecessary to propel her team to victory. They also noted that requiring athletes to push themselves to the point of injury is often counterproductive since a career-ending injury like the one Strug endured meant the gymnast was unable to compete in future competitions on behalf of the U.S.
Some users also noted the irony that people who could in no way pull off the stunts performed by either woman were the main ones comparing the two, especially since those stunts could permanently injure, disable, or even kill.
A Tragic, Disturbing Connection Between The Two Star Gymnasts
One particularly disturbing detail was recalled from the 1996 Olympics: the fact that Strug was carried off to the women’s gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar. That was the same doctor who, years later, faced federal charges after he was found guilty of sexually abusing the many athletes under his care, including Simone Biles herself.
Biles’ Future At The 2021 Tokyo Olympics Still Unclear
It’s still unknown if Biles will go on to compete in the individual gymnastics event, though she has indicated that it is still a possibility. For right now, she is focused on her mental health. With so much pressure on her, it’s probably wise that she took a step back. Her sport of choice can be incredibly dangerous and neither her mental or physical health is worth a gold medal, no matter what armchair Olympic experts might tweet.
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