There Goes My Head! The Latest On Simone Biles…


The LA Times just blew up my head, which is my problem, and also made it mandatory to once again raise the increasingly aggravating matter of Simone Biles, the greatest, most courageous gymnast who ever quit on her team because the pressure just became too much. The latter is your problem because I assume you’re as sick of reading about Biles as I am sick of thinking about her.

In an article bemoaning how the failure of so many of America’s putative stars in the Tokyo Olympics has put “the Games in a deep hole with lots of digging to be done,” Times sportswriter David Wharton wrote,

Biles could help. Though facing some detractors, she has received a wave of support on social media over the past 24 hours and, speaking with reporters, sounded as if she might compete in the all-around and individual events beginning later this week. ‘Just a lot of different variables and I think we’re just a little stressed out,” she said, adding that “we’re going to take it a day at a time.Given the very personal yet very public circumstances of Biles’ withdrawal on Tuesday, [assistant professor of sports management at the University of New Haven Jason] Chung believes her return could become an even bigger story. “I could imagine it bringing more viewers because of the human-interest angle,” he said. “Having someone of her magnitude and ability struggling emotionally, people might be interested to see how she weathers the storm. “Also,” he said, “she could draw younger viewers who connect with that kind of authenticity.”

This passage made my head explode four or five times—it’s hard to count when your brains are on the ceiling.The last was the worst–AUTHENTICITY???? Paging Inigo Montoya:

There is nothing authentic about Simone Biles. Acclaimed and accepting acclaim, indeed profiting from acclaim as a female gymnast above all others, the Greatest Of All Time, she failed at the barest minimum any elite athlete is expected to achieve—having the courage to compete and risk defeat. Following her withdrawal after a sub-par performance, she whined about the burden she had willingly accepted as her team’s leader, star and foundation, and allowed others to float deceptive excuses on her behalf. Either Biles is an authentic athletic hero, requiring her to sacrifice, rise above adversity and risk defeat, or she is an authentic fearful, risk-averse, self-centered human being like most human beings—but she cannot be both at the same time. Because she is posing as both, she cannot be called “authentic.”

That was the worst explosion, though since the previous blasts had already largely emptied my skull, it did relatively little damage. They were triggered by…

  • Biles’ quote. She has been excused and even lionized because of the claim that she is suffering from a serious mental or emotional problem. One does not recover from such maladies overnight—they are not like hangnails. Once again, she describes herself as “just a little stressed out.” Champpion athletes are expected to deal with stress; they are rewarded for doing so, and it is what makes them champions. While all of her enablers and apologists have made it sound like Biles had to quit because she was banging her head against walls, alternately weeping and giggling madly and one step away from institutionalization, she has repeatedly attributed her behavior to the stress of, presumably, high expectations and having to live up to her hype.
  • More viewers! If it is really the stress that caused Biles to bail on her team, what is her reaction going to be to the magnified stress of being watched across the world  by voyeurs eager to see if she will crumble? If Biles is genuinelly suffering from the emotional burdens being used to excuse her, then the U.S. team shouldn’t allow her to compete now, and more than they would allow a gymnast to compete with a serious injury.
  • “SOME detractors”! Really? Is judging a quitter as a quitter and a “greatest” who behaves like no “greatest” before has ever behaved as not so great actually the minority opinion? How is that possible? I know I am sounding like a broken record (“What’s record, daddy?”), but no celebrity athlete, male or female, has ever been excused for doing what Biles did. Esteemed commenter Here’s Johnny, bless his heart, gives credence to the claim that Biles’ team mates are completely supportive. I will bet my head that eventually one or more of them come forward with their real reactions, and the truth will be markedly different from the official version for the public.

OK, that was just four explosions. It was still too many.

46 thoughts on “There Goes My Head! The Latest On Simone Biles…

  1. “I assume you’re as sick of reading about Biles as I am sick of thinking about her.” Right you are. And the continued expositions on and comments on this otherwise mostly thoughtful and thought-provoking blog (even when I disagree…or maybe especially when I disagree? just made my head explode. 💥

    • Michael, this is an important issue. If a group of people can use their media pulpit to turn a basic societal touchstone on its head, that’s a scary situation and “attention must be paid.”

      As a classical music critic once told me, “We go to concerts to see concert musicians do the impossible.” Vladimir Horowitz was not praised to the skies for taking many years off from performing in public. Glenn Gould was not idolized for withdrawing from live performances and preferring the recording studio. They just did what they had to do and endured the consequences. And of course Horowitz returned to the stage. This sort of pressure is just part of the deal of being great and if these propagandists want to try to convince us otherwise, I’m certainly not having it.

      I am a student of the piano (I’m not good enough to call myself a pianist). I find it incredibly difficult to play in front of an audience and invariably feel as if I’ve crashed and burned after having done so. Does that make me a hero either because I don’t play in front of people? No. It just means I don’t have the ability and nerves of people who can. I’m supposed to be lauded because I don’t play in front of audiences? That’s nuts. And it’s corrosive. What’s next? After seeing a football team take a knee, we’re to applaud when they walk off the field for their mental and emotional well being?

      • Vladimir Horowitz – what an interesting example. I’m trying to understand what your point is. I mean, the guy took twelve years off! Maybe he was criticized in the moment, but in the long run it became part of his aura. Maybe an even greater example from classical piano is Leon Fleisher, who claimed for several decades that he couldn’t use his right hand because the last two fingers habitually curled up, and yet his career remained very much intact for him to pick up later.

        In both cases you can make the argument that they got away with these situations because, well, they could. Horowitz lived during an era of tremendous profits for classical music recordings on LPs, an era that is long past, and not just because of the changing tastes of the public. Even pop music figures today complain that, except for megastars like Taylor Swift, there is no real money in recordings compared to touring and live concerts.

        Fleisher held essentially a faculty position-for-life at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, where to be sure he was a revered teacher. I have two friends/acquaintances in the overwhelmingly competitive world of contemporary concert piano who studied with Fleisher, and they hold his memory in the highest regard. I also personally had the honor of a nearly hour-long telephone conversation with Fleisher around his 90th birthday in preparation for an article I was writing. But in my judgment it is virtually certain that if they came up in today’s world of a huge supply/demand imbalance in classical music talent, neither Horowitz nor Fleisher could have made the claims they did and continued forward with their careers. They’d be forgotten and replaced in a heartbeat.

        I have mixed feelings about the Simone Biles situation. I’ve had a bit of a hard time understanding the video and “explanation” by commentators that she got lost or confused in the air, as all I see is somebody winding up doing one less twist or revolution, exactly the way dozens of times I’ve seen figure skating analysts state in the moment that so-and-so was planning to do a triple-whatever but only did a double. But it sure looks difficult as hell and, whether it’s physical or mental, I simply hold no animus toward the athlete for judging that she wasn’t ready to continue, compared to what I agree is the genuine concern about the sanctimonious, performative piling on by seemingly hundreds of commentators who are trying to fold their stance into their own personal-virtue efforts. My underlying point here is that if you do think that Simone Biles made a big mistake by pulling out, you sure as heck have to look at lots of past examples of people with other demographic characteristics who may have made similarly “convenient” claims. I hope this helps.

          • I’m not sure what your point is, Jack. Leaving aside the fact that there is such a thing as competitions in classical music, and in fact Leon Fleisher became prominent by winning one (the 1952 Queen Elisabeth-with-an-s Piano Competition in Brussels, which used to be a big deal), these guys carry the responsibility of classical music’s popularity or lack thereof on their shoulders. And Fleisher’s example is much more interesting and relevant to this Simone Biles analogy than even Horowitz in other ways as well.

            In his time Fleisher was known along with several other guys as the OYAPs, or “Outstanding Young American Pianists.” That was originally a semi-humorous reference to a cliche phrase that reviewers kept reaching for in describing these performers that eventually became institutionalized. Notice the key word in there – American! – at a time when cultural arbiters really wanted native-born performers to shine for reasons both of promoting the genre’s popularity among the broad population and the obvious matter of the Cold War. Fleisher’s dropping out of the concert-stage scene thus has several analogies to the idea of an Olympic team even if it’s not exactly the same thing.

            One can accept or not the decades-later diagnosis of “focal dystonia” (look it up) to explain Fleisher’s malady, but there’s certainly a close connection here with the ability of an athlete or an artist to be able to beg off a situation based on their prominence, privilege, or whatever you want to call it. If it really is the case that Simone Biles unjustifiably pulled rank on her country’s team, and as I say I have mixed feelings about it, you have to admit that other prominent people have indeed appeared to do something very similar multiple times in the past.

            • But they are not athletes! A closer analogy is soldiers, police, or fire-fighters. Athletes exist to embody ideals of courage, dedication and fortitude, heroic ideals. That is part of what the Olympics was created to symbolize. That’s why there are so many statues of great athletes, and so few of great musicians. I expect musicions to play well or write beautiful music. Anyone who expects ethical or admirable conduct from a musician hasn’t been paying attention

              • I disagree. Concert musicians are incredibly brave and do incredible things. They must have nerves of steel. And the business/profession is fiercely competitive and brutal. The ones who have successful performing careers stand at the top of a pile of lesser musicians whose dreams have been crushed. (See, eg., my short story “Scherzando.”) There are times I think people who go to classical concerts of the highest caliber are much like NASCAR fans who go to races or watch them on TV in order to see the wrecks. There’s a death defying aspect to professional concertizing. It can be a little ghoulish. The performers have to be brave. I can’t imagine any touring concert professional ever being lauded for retiring because their nerves are shot. Sympathy, yes, but not adulation.

        • David, my point regarding Horowitz’s withdrawal from the concert stage was simply he was not lionized for doing so. It’s the slobbering lionization of Biles for no apparent rational reason that gets my GOAT.

          I thought Leon Fleisher suffered from a muscular problem in one of his forearms which was cured with the application of some doses of Botox. About ten or so years ago, I saw him play Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with the Phoenix Symphony. He lost his place at one point. It was kind of sad. Yes, he was a great teacher with a massive tree of students and students who became teachers of other students. Again, in any event, I don’t recall Fleisher ever being lionized for stepping away. That’s my only point.

  2. Without a doubt, Simone is the Audie Murphy of the so-called Olympic Movement. But, to be fair, Richard Petty once abandoned a race in the early nineties citing “driver fatigue.” The difference might be that in addition to risking his own health and assets (race cars ain’t cheap, bubba), RP would have, lacking concentrative abilities due to fatigue, put fellow competitors at risk.

      Gary Graves of The Sentinel Staff

      Richard Petty might be the symbol of NASCAR’s popularity, but on Saturday he reluctantly became the fall guy for the heat.

      Track temperatures exceeding 130 degrees quickly took a toll on The King during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, turning what had been a warm beginning – filled with accolades – into a scorching end that left Petty shirtless and in search of fluids.

      • Steve, you seem to be missing the point? Was Petty lauded for withdrawing from the race? Was his doing so essential to his reputation? No. He was physically unable to perform and withdrew. Big deal. Did that get him into the hall of fame? No. It was a bad weekend.

              • I was just saying he was 55 when this happened. It’s not implying Petty is a quitter; it was supposed to illustrate the opposite. He was still competing at 55 when your body is in decline and more susceptable to fatique – especially in that scenario. It backs up the point that he was physically unable to perform.

          • If Biles had said, “I have an inner ear condition that has made me unable to compete,” who could have complained? No one. “Gee, that’s too bad, Simone. You had a great career. Thanks for all the good things you did for your sport and your country. Unfortunate you came down with something where you had to withdraw from this particular competition. See you at this fall’s or winter’s World’s, or are you going to retire?” End of story.

            • Yeah, the “it must be a secret injury” fad makes no sense at all. Withdrawing for a genuine injury is never going to be criticized. Why would she not just announce the injury rather than talking about the “weight of the world”?

            • OB rang a bell: “If Biles had said, “I have an inner ear condition that has made me unable to compete,” who could have complained?”

              Something has been niggling (if I may use the word) at me since the beginning of this fiasco. Who could have complained? Everyone who would have expected to hear something decisive from, say, the coach, reporting from the medical staff if only that she would not be able to compete tomorrow? or the next day? … not in vague, contradictory, nonprofessional terms from the babygirl’s mouth direct to the cameras. Am I missing something, or has there been no backup from the go-to sources? Nothing formal, nothing official, just Ms, look-at-me hogging the limelight and winking at her dumbed down social-media fans while her erstwhile hard-working, full-hearted teammates keep piling up points. “Erstwhile” meaning that she ceased being an active member of the team after the first mealy-mouthed announcement (still not officially backed up) and should have — according to Olympic rules — been sent out of the country within 48 hours.

              And no, her behavior and all the press-enabling behind her does not make me ashamed of my country. It makes me ashamed for it. We don’t deserve this.

  3. I am mellowing a little bit on the criticisms of her.

    This is mainly because of claims she was “lost in the air.” I am not sure if that was a secondary excuse to cover for her initial emotional excuse. I agree with others that emotions are not a good excuse. It means that you can’t handle the sort of stress other can.

    I am not entirely clear what she means by being lost in the air except that you lose track of where your body is in relation to itself and the ground.

    This excuse does not sound comparable to the “yips” or too much stress. It may not even be a lack of concentration. If it is genuinely an equilibrium problem, her performing may be genuinely dangerous to herself.

    This distinguishes it from putting in golf or kicking field goals in football; those situations involve little to no physical risk, but are terribly stressful in the clutch.

    We have gotten to the point where we take people with concussions out of play, even over their protestations that they not quit.

    This excuse of Biles that she got lost in the air may be a legitimate excuse. I say “May” because I don’t fully understand the excuse. However, if, for example, it is indicative of an inner ear problem, she probably should not be performing.

    If only I cared so much about this issue. In any case, it has been completely overshadowed, in my view, with the performance of St. Paul’s own Suni Lee.


    • I wish I could agree with you, but I think we all keep falling into the same trap … that the self-styled patient says this and that, all of it medically meaningless (I had a grandfather who was extremely good at this) not because there might not be a solid diagnosis behind it, but because it was too too carefully non-specific and — if that wasn’t enough to discredit it — contradictory. A gymnast of any calibre, much less hers, does not have a balance or consciousness problem that isn’t medically noticed and examined, especially when she draws international attention to it. If that, then, removes all her self-assurance and thus, her ability to compete, then this is a crisis of confidence. In someone who has always been “the best” (one of her arguments suggests she has never known failure or disappointment– this doesn’t make sense either; at some point during her training, she has to have made mistakes (plural). At most, she can argue her own immaturity, as a child “star” with nothing but praise — oh, and an unhappy, loveless family background, true, the combination is fatal to the ego.

      At most then, is it that silence that surrounds high-level competition? Will we “hear about it later?” I can’t wait. Meanwhile, you’re right. Let’s give the team (not “hers,” the USA one, currently led with grace and maturity by Suni Lee) their full due.

      • Update: Did I say “contradictory?” Here’s the latest bile: “I’ve had the “twisties” before. It takes about two weeks for them to go away, and then I’m okay.” Uh, ri-i-ight. So why were you sticking around pretending that you’re maybe going to be able to compete before the current Olympics are over and done with?

      • I think you’ve got it right on ‘lost in the air’, AKA ‘twisties’, and I believe that was what she was referring to at the time she said she was withdrawing from the women’s all-around. Obviously, others here disagree on the seriousness of that condition, or even the existence of it.
        Ah, Suni Lee, what a remarkable young woman, but, alas, not planning to attend the University of Minnesota, nor even the University of St. Thomas.

        • If she withdrew because of a physical condition rendering her unable to perform, it’s an entirely different situation than has been disclosed to date. No one here would have a problem with her being physically unable to perform. That’s a non-issue.

          • And if she withdrew because she was physically unable to perform, her handlers and the U.S. Olympic team communications people screwed the pooch big time.

          • And withdrawing for a medical issue does not qualify one as a hero or role model. Otherwise the majority of major league players are heroes for being on injured reserve at some point in their career.

          • It’s basically a disruption in the mind-body connection, so, whether it’s physical or not for you depends on how you view that connection.

            • Yes. I could see it being three possible things:

              1) lack of concentration. That is simply mental and something required of many elite people, from gymnasts to neurosurgeons.

              2) Inner ear problem. That is probably physical and uncontrollable, as most aging people understand.

              3) some kind of problem with proprioception, which would probably be characterized as a neurological problem. Again, if that is the case, quitting is probably medically advised.

              I don’t know enough to be confident about any sort of judgment on that.


      • Thanks for that one. Doesn’t quite take the taste of Biles out of my mouth, but puts the focus back on the Team, as it is now.

    • “Nike on line one for Simone Biles.
      Suni who?”

      Heh! O Brother Where Art Thou character Dan Big Dan Teague (Jonathan Goodman):

      “You don’t say much friend, but when you do it’s to the point and I salute you for it!”

  4. You do know she has the yips right? And is lost in the air? She has no idea where she is when she’s spinning up there. She could kill herself. If you watch her last jump, you can see that’s what’s happening.

    That’s why she quit. She’s had it before and they eventually go away.

  5. So now you’re just spouting off conspiracy theories.

    This is the invincible ignorance fallacy. You’re ignorning evidence and being pigheaded. There’s no reason to believe she’s lying. Wouldn’t you just lie and say you broke something? You act like having the yips isn’t just as embarrassing as being stressed out.

    There’s literally video evidence of her being “lost in the air.” You can see her eyes flailing around because she didn’t know where she was during her last routine.

    Everyone who knows more about gymnastics than you agree that it’s the yips. She’s has actually gotten the yips before as well.

    • There is video-evidence of her trying difficult moves that nobody else tries and not being able to pull it off. Golfers don’t have the “yips” if they suddenly have trouble putting with their mouth. There are sports that involve physical risks that mots people and athletes consider extreme, but if you have spent your life doing ski jumps, or gymnastics, or sky-diving, or football, or race-car driving, etc., they aren’t terrifying to you, especially when you are “the greatest ever.” Serious injuries among the elite of the elite female (or male) gymnasts are extremely rare. The #1 gymnast in the world behaving like Biles is more than rare, it’s unprecedented. Attributing her withdrawal to choking and reacting in an unchampion-like manner because she was afraid of losing isn’t a conspiracy theory—it’s how she explained it herself! The willingness of so many to accept the follow-up cover story looks like pure confirmation bias—nobody wants to believe that all of the hype and the assumption that she would smoke the competition got to her. Why? Oh, because she’s really just a vulnerable little girl, a 24-year-old “girl,” and we need to be compassionate, unlike the way male athletes are treated.

      “Everyone who knows more about gymnastics than you agree that it’s the yips.” I guarantee that this is not true.

      I agree that no one in the gymnastics world has the guts—yet—to come out and admit what they really believe happened for fear of being cancelled, attacked, called a racist, etc.

  6. Mrs. OB suffers from vertigo from time to time. She can hardly sit up or walk without her head “spinning” to the point she has to lie down until the “spinning” stops. A definitive diagnosis of some known medical malady by the team doctor or any other physician would clear up the situation completely.

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