Tim Richards Column: Failing with Grace

Tim Richards

Americans who follow the Olympic games were uncertain who would win medals in this year’s Olympics, with one exception; they knew Simeon Biles would add to her impressive medal count. Then last week we saw the 24-year-old gymnast first struggle to compete and then withdraw from the all-around team competition. Most Americans were disappointed when she decided to completely withdraw from this year’s Olympic games.

Most have been supportive, but others have criticized her for not staying the course when the chips were down. Olympic gold medal winner, Henry Cedudo even suggested she may need a little “tough love.”

Can we learn anything from what happened to Simeon Biles last week? Those of us who have never competed internationally can only imagine the pressure the young gymnast feels each time she competes. Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman described Biles’ pressure this way, “There’s only so much someone can take. She’s human and I think sometimes people forget that.”

However, in hindsight there is one thing which I believe made her struggle worse. Simeon had embraced her nickname, The GOAT, the gymnast who was the “Greatest Of All Time.” Let me be clear, this informal title is well deserved. She has won a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals! Sports Illustrated called her “a legend in her prime.” Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to ever score a perfect ten, described Biles this way, “If we’re talking about domination, nothing like that has ever happened in our sport. I don’t think there will ever be anything like that. She’s one of a kind.”

Still, accepting the moniker of “the GOAT” likely brought with it an added measure of expectation which may have been a tipping point. When any of us buy into the idea we are great, we are in danger because each of us are decidedly human.

You may think I am making too much of this but consider the wise words of Jesus, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11, NLT)

I have never been world-class in any area. However, a few times I allowed myself to buy into the idea that I was extraordinary. Practically every time I allowed my pride to take control, I humiliated myself.

As my wife and I watched the gymnastics all-around team competition, we were impressed with Simeon Biles. While she decided to take herself out of the competition for the good of her team, she stayed with her teammates and cheered them on to the silver medal. It would have been easier for her to retreat from the spotlight and nurse her wounds, but she did not. Such character suggests Simeon Biles will continue making a difference in both gymnastics and the world.