Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from Olympic competition this year has certainly generated a great deal of heated discussion, with some public commentators praising her for her courage and others describing her as a selfish quitter.
From my experience in psychology, I know it is very hard to determine exactly what is going on in another person’s mind and heart while seated across from them, let alone from a distance of several thousand miles. I can’t presume to fully understand Biles’ motivation, but in throwing in my two cents’ worth, I’ll try to keep this advice from St. Thomas Aquinas in mind as to whether we should consider another person’s actions as virtuous or vicious:
“He who interprets doubtful behaviors for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of the wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter an injury is inflicted, but not in the former” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q. 60, a. 4).
Based on the limited information I’ve been able to gather on Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s gymnastics finals at the Tokyo Olympics, I applaud her decision and hope there are lessons in it for all Olympic athletes and for all of us in their wide world of fans.
Biles reported that in the five hours leading up to her under-par vault performance she was unable to obtain her usual mental clarity, to calm down and focus on the demanding tasks at hand. After stumbling on her landing in the balance-beam event, she reported that while up in the air she experienced the sense that she did not know where she was. She said she realized that her head was not in it, that she might get hurt, and that she might spoil her teammates’ chances for medals if she continued on in the competition.
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