Rosemary McLeod reflects on the public reaction to Simone Biles’ Olympic exit

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We all have limits, says Rosemary, so why are some people judged for walking away from stressful situations?

I’ve cheerfully driven cars worth far less than the Italian handbag I once coveted in the window of an overseas store. I couldn’t afford it, but I’ve never forgotten it.

That beautiful, intricately woven leather couldn’t live down to the cars I drove, the clothes I wore, my decor, or me. It was made for an heiress or trophy wife and knew it. It would have looked down on me, had I splurged, and grown to hate me – and the feeling would have been mutual.

For once, I walked on by. I’d met my limit, in aspiration as well as dollar signs. It’s a shame I didn’t do that more often in my life – one more reason to look on Simone Biles with awe and respect for withdrawing from the Olympic Games after she suffered from the “twisties”. The greatest gymnast ever, we’re told, who vaulted and somersaulted as if there was no such thing as gravity, didn’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore.

Biles was among many female American gymnasts hothoused for stardom while being sexually abused from a young age by USA Gymnastics’ sports doctor, Larry Nassar. What made her great, then, had made her vulnerable. What determination those young gymnasts had to stay with the sport despite how seriously they’d been undermined. Even the FBI seems to have looked the other way when they finally complained. Nassar will likely never get out of jail, but the damage is done.

It takes courage to stop when you’ve proved you’re the best, and great willpower to set your demons aside and achieve despite them. Above all, what maturity it took for Biles to prioritise her mental health. More people should do it.

Broadcaster Piers Morgan slammed her for opting out – as he would, being a bully – and a rash of social media nastiness followed, along with much support. I have no idea why people need social media, which is so often toxic.

The world would be a happier place if more people quit while they were ahead, in smaller settings than the Olympics. I wish I’d walked away more often from stressful jobs and bad relationships.

The drive to be the boss ruins many lives. It’s seen as the ultimate success to some people, but few are suited to it, and too many don’t know their limits. They become micromanagers, lying awake at night fretting over details that don’t matter, nagging people below them in the pecking order, sacrificing marriages for the illusion of power when they were happy with less responsibility.

In many cases they turn to alcohol for the fake confidence it gives them – a great way to ruin your life and the lives of people close to you.

I used to marvel that the cleverest people at work often stayed low in the pecking order, keeping their sanity as I came to realise. They could earn more money, but what would it buy them? A happier marriage? More loveable children? Clothes with status logos? Maybe a handbag in a Paris store window, but then what? Craving things can become a habit that’s hard to break.

Biles may well return to gymnastics when she’s ready. I’m a great admirer, though, of people who suddenly take up a lifestyle or job that has nothing to do with their former career. They can see they’ve had enough and do something about it.

You’ll find them running small wineries, breeding chooks, living off their vegetable gardens, doing voluntary work and shopping in op shops, and the world carries on without its former high rollers.

We are all replaceable, and handbags are only handbags. You shouldn’t have to compete with them.

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