Taking Initiative

Taking+Initiative

Alivia Romaniuk

On July 27, Simone Biles shocked the world when she withdrew from the team finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after a poor vault performance. Biles was visibly distressed during her vault warm up. She appeared to get lost in the air, not knowing when and where she was going to land, a potentially dangerous situation that gymnasts refer to as “the twisties.” Out of safety concerns, Biles decided not to continue.

It was then up to the rest of Team USA: Sunisa Lee, Grace Mccallum and Jordan Chiles–all first time Olympians–to finish the competition without their star teammate. They ended up winning silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee. 

While Biles faced criticism for withdrawing from the competition, members of the gymnastics community were quick to point out that she performs some of the most difficult and dangerous skills in the world, and to perform those skills while in a bad mental state could have catastrophic consequences. 

“There’s more to life than just gymnastics,” Biles said later in a press conference. 

Biles’ withdrawal from competition was undoubtedly one of the most memorable events of the 2020 Games. Furthermore, it occurs 25 years after Kerri Strug performed a vault with an injured foot to win gold for Team USA, in what became one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history.

Strug was celebrated for her bravery and determination to win gold for her country. However, in the Netflix documentary Athlete A, Jennifer Sey, a former USA Gymnastics national champion, offered a different perspective.

Everybody’s cheering her on as this hero, and all I could think was, ‘Why are we celebrating this? Don’t pretend she had a choice,’” she said in the documentary.

Dominique Moceanu, another member of Team USA during the 1996 Atlanta games, said she agreed that gymnasts did not have a choice at the time.

“(withdrawing from competition) simply wasn’t an option in 1996,” she said in an interview with BBC News. “Having a choice–it changes everything.”

Moceanu competed in the Olympics with a tibial fracture when she was just 14 years old. She said she felt powerless and afraid during that time.

“Simone’s decision has made me think about that time, and how there was no compassion, no care, and absolutely no voice,” she said.

On Sept 15, Simone Biles and three other former USA Gymnastics gymnasts testified to Congress, claiming that the FBI failed to protect the young patients of Larry Nasser within the USA Gymnastics institution. The four women shared emotional and horrific stories of the abuse they faced and demanded indictment for FBI agents and others that allowed Nasser’s abuse to continue.

“We all deserve more than just words,” Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman said.

The women of USA Gymnastics have demanded change to protect the next generation of young female athletes. Likewise, Biles sent an important message to athletes everywhere when she withdrew from competition for safety reasons. After decades of feeling powerless, these women are now taking initiative and bringing important changes to the culture of sport, empowering young athletes and ensuring that the abuse they faced will not continue.

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