The Layer of Fear Tokyo Olympics Inside Gymnastics
Imagine perfection. Making it years with practices stacked one on top of the other, and hoping, wishing that your body holds up for one more day. Your best day. When everything is on the line.
There are many types of fear in sports: disappointing coaches or parents, the weight of representing your country, not becoming what was expected of you, losing or disappointing sponsors, returning to the sport after injury and fearing that you will not be as good, or at least, as good as your last performance. Or what the world remembers – which is normally your highest high or your lowest low with not much in between.
Arguably, there are very few sports where physical fear, or injury and peril is an issue, in the way that gymnastics, diving, and downhill skiing for example, are.
This added layer is a reason why gymnastics is truly one of the toughest sports in the world. No one is afraid to blow a knee out running. Or break their shoulder swimming. Not taking anything away from these sports, as they are grueling in their own right, but that added layer of trepidation for most, isn’t there.
Refer back, please to the article on the Physics of Simone. It explains a lot.
Gymnastics is designed by Levels for a reason. As you advance in skills, you move up to the next Level. Like building a house from the foundation, it’s a progression–based path. If the skills and scores and safety levels aren’t there, a gymnast does not advance. Years of work go into the skills that eventually make it to the Elite level. But also, gymnasts are humans and not robots. The mental aspect is critical in all Levels, and particularly at the Elite level when the skills are at the most advanced end of the spectrum.
Today, in team finals at the Tokyo Olympics, all came down to just that. Physically, hundredths of a second can be the difference between a torn ACL and a perfect landing, or making a decision to pull out of a skill safely to avoid injury. It’s a constant thought in the headspace of any athlete. Even for Simone Biles.
“I don’t trust myself,” Biles said to her coach, Ceceile Landi after pulling out of a vault (intended to have two and half twists) mid air and “only” performing one and half with a huge lunge forward instead. And that statement was enough.
After today’s competition, where Biles’ three teammates secured the silver medal while counting her vault score only, we will look at the sport, and these women who are people, not robots, in a different light. How we should have been looking at them all along, really.
The pressure of staying safe and competing has been in Simone’s mind for years, especially as she created new skills that are quite literally death-defying. Adding another twist or two or a second flip. A double double off beam, a triple double on floor, a Yurchenko double pike. And the list goes on and on.
And while Simone loves to give the crowd a show, she has smartly also tried to work within the limits of what she’s feeling in the moment. Take the Olympic Trials as an example. Many fans were eagerly anticipating the Yurchenko double pike. But, for a variety of reasons, she chose not to compete it. In consultation with her coaches, she made the decision that was best in the moment, even though she had been training it successfully during the season. Those are the types of calls that are critical in the sport of gymnastics.
Safety reigns physically over risk many a time. Physically, we see limping. You can revisit the Dalaloyan story for that angle.
Mentally, however, there is no bandage or wrap to let anyone know an athlete is struggling mentally. There is no tape to make people aware that you aren’t 100%. Sure, you can see it in people’s eyes, especially if you have known them forever, worked on them for years, and had them trust in your care. But even then, the really good athletes can hide it.
Expectations. The fear of letting people down sometimes is so much stronger than the practical understanding that there is physical risk.
Today, Biles changed that conversation…
Read the Full Article at Inside Gymnastics Magazine