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To my secondary school students.

Por Fabio Vargas, profesor y orientador Green Valley Atenas School

To my secondary school students.

The Olympic Games have always been a source of inspiration for many.

Improvement of physical performance, graphically summarized in the ancient slogan: citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger) is just part of what the competition entails. Plenty of anecdotes including accidents, disappointments, sacrifice, friendship, surprises, and many others, reveal the undeniable fact that the Olympic Games have a lot to do with the emotional part of human experience.

A minority of athletes will go back home with a medal hanging from their necks. Not one of them, however, will leave Tokyo without a lesson to enrich their experience as a human being. They should all feel wiser, richer and stronger, even if they did not manage to achieve the marks they were aiming at.

What about us? What can we learn from the Olympic Games?

Simone Biles arrived in Tokyo as one of the greatest athletes ever, having obtained innumerable prizes in gymnastic competitions around the world. There were speculations as to how many medals she was going to get individually and as part of the US team. She finished the competition with one bronze medal.

As she was set to start the competitions, she was overcome by a type of anxiety difficult to understand for most of us who haven’t experienced it. She was suddenly scared of performing what she is best at, due to a momentary unusual condition that can affect some athletes. They call it twisties. The gymnast loses the sense of direction and location as she flies spinning and flipping into the air.

Biles withdrew her participation from a number of events she was expected to perform. It wasn’t just fear of underperforming. It was also panic of not being able to complete her routine, coupled with the real possibility of getting badly injured by landing on the floor in the wrong position.

Gymnastics fans around the world were thoroughly disappointed. She was the victim of judgment and criticism from all quarters, blaming her for lack of emotional strength and disloyalty to her team. Biles became the target of those who felt offended by her refusal to compete, in a manner that reminds us of the demanding, blood-thirsty spectators of the Roman coliseum.

The modern world of sports is transforming athletes into products, objects that are meant to be there to please our senses. Fans and firms claim ownership over sport people, intending to dictate over their lives, demanding perfect performance regardless of their physical or emotional condition. Biles had the courage of saying: I am not feeling well. A simple statement that can mark the beginning of healing for anyone, not just athletes.

We have the right to say we are not feeling well. We need to say it. We have the right to postpone what others regard as priorities, because our mental health counts. We should learn not to live to fulfill someone else’s expectations, especially when they ignore how we feel.

Thanks, Simone Biles, for treasuring your life beyond golden medals. I am sure you are now wiser, richer and stronger, just as it is expected in the game of life.

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