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At the beginning of this year’s Summer Games, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee released guidelines as to where and when athletes can express their political opinions. One of the rules was that athletes cannot demonstrate “political, religious or racial propaganda” on “any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The guidelines were there in place as to protect “the neutrality of sport at the Olympic Games and the neutrality of the Games themselves.”
But nevertheless, a few fierce Olympian women, namely Luciana Alvarado and Simone Biles, have managed to express themselves through subtle yet powerful ways.
Take, for example, Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado. Not only is Alvarado the first gymnast from Costa Rica to ever qualify to compete in the Olympics, but she managed to slip some activism into the choreography of her routine.
Alvarado ended her floor routine by taking a knee, and raising her fist in the sky.
When, after her routine, a reporter asked Alvarado about the message behind the choreography, Alvarado was candid. She admitted that the move was an homage to Black lives as well as an acknowledgement of the racial reckoning of 2020.
“I feel like if you do something that brings everyone together, you know, and you see that here, like ‘Yes, you’re one of mine, you understand things’, the importance of everyone treated with respect and dignity and everyone having the same rights because we’re all the same and we’re all beautiful and amazing,” she said in an interview with GymCastic.
But Luciana Alvarado isn’t the only gymnast who made her voice heard this week. The GOAT herself, Simone Biles, made a statement when she decided not to continue competing because of her mental health.
After feeling “off” during her vault routine, 24-year-old Simone Biles consulted with her coach and made the decision to drop out. “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue,” said USA gymnastics in a statement. “She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
But it wasn’t a “medical issue” that prevented Biles from competing. It was a mindset issue. In her gut, Biles felt that if she continued to compete, she would risk injury. “Today it’s like, you know what, no, I don’t want to do something stupid and get hurt,” she said. “And it’s just it’s not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes that can step up to the plate and do it, not worth it.”
She added later: “I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat and work on my mindfulness. I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job.”
While Biles’ decision to drop out may seem innocuous to the casual observer, for those who have followed the Olympics for a while, the decision move was radical.
As sports researcher and author Amy Bass wrote in an opinion piece for CNN: “Of all the GOAT things that Simone Biles has ever done, perhaps looking at the trainer and announcing that she could not continue? That might be the greatest. There would be no soldiering on. It was done. She knew it and had the strength to say it.”
By prioritizing her mental health over the wants of others, Simone Biles was signaling to people everywhere that there is nothing more important than your own wellness. No, not even the Olympics. Many people look to Olympians for inspiration, as proof of what the human body is capable of when the mind is disicplined. Now, we have a new generation of Olympians on our hands. Ones that won’t sacrifice their happiness or health for others. Now that’s a statement we can get behind.
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