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Our Olympic icons — they’re just like you and me

Simone Biles shows her support for teammate Sunisa Lee at the Olympics July 29.Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

In a year like no other, gymnast Biles takes a most courageous leap

Gymnastics was arguably the centerpiece of the Olympics this year. And Simone Biles was the centerpiece of the centerpiece.

As Biles wobbled in the prelims, we understood that she would dominate in the team finals. Until she didn’t, the weight of expectations bringing her crashing to earth, no longer soaring through the air, twisting and turning, but suddenly, incredibly human, a person exposed, with challenges and insecurities like you and me.

On the biggest stage, at the apex of a remarkable career, there she stood and announced: No more.

This did not compute — the emotional strain greater than the physical capacity; the mind, not the body, faltering.


This has been a year unlike any other, testing our collective mental fortitude in the face of relentless adversity. And these Olympics, the stands virtually empty, with the support of a cheering crowd, of friends and family, nowhere to be found, athletes were isolated and alone in ways none of us could ever have imagined. None more so, perhaps, than Simone Biles.

Did she enhance her stature in stepping away more than she could have in victory? To some, this seems an absurdity. For them, she merely cracked under the pressure. To others, Biles exhibited a courage and grace unmatched on a field of sport.

Once and forever, the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time? Or, at least in this moment, a fallen hero? The answer lies in the eye of the beholder. I know what I think.

Robert S. Nussbaum

Great Barrington

As we speak of mental health, let’s recall Sha’Carri Richardson

While Simone Biles’s bold withdrawal from the Olympics is being touted as a Rosetta stone-like moment for athlete empowerment and self-preservation (“Simone Biles, teacher,” Opinion, July 28), I can only think of track sensation Sha’Carri Richardson, who was penalized and left off the US Olympic team for her own effort to support her mental health. The 21-year-old sprinter had just suffered the loss of her mother, and was using marijuana as a way to cope with the profuse grief she was experiencing. Richardson had the desire to compete in Tokyo but was deprived of the opportunity. She did not receive anywhere near the empathy or support that the four-time Olympic gold-medalist Biles garnered.


I hope that Richardson has her Olympic moment to shine four years from now. In the meantime, Team USA owes her a heartfelt apology.

Andrew Ginsburg

Southport, Conn.