Biles was aptly described by one IB reader as “a phenomenal woman and athlete”. The 24-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, is the most decorated US women’s gymnast ever, with 32 World/Olympic medals. All eyes were on Biles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as she was tipped for record-breaking success. According to NBC, the possible milestones on the champion’s docket included:
- Tie the all-time gold medal record by a female athlete (9)
- Tie or break the all-time gold medal record by a US woman in any sport (8)
- Tie or break the record for individual golds in gymnastics (7)
- Break the record for most gold medals by a female gymnast at a single Games (4)
- Tie or break the record for most Olympic medals by a US gymnast (7) and most gold medals by a US gymnast (5)
- Be the first to repeat as Olympic women’s all-around champion since 1968
That’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone’s shoulders, let alone a 24-year-old. And unfortunately, life had other plans for the gymnastics phenomenon.
On Tuesday, August 27, Biles pushed off the vaulting table in the Tokyo Olympics team final, intending to perform a 2½-twisting vault, but she seemed to freeze mid-vault and only managed to complete 1½ twists. She suffered what gymnasts call the “twisties” – a frightening and dangerous conundrum for gymnasts where they lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air.
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Sean Melton, a former elite gymnast who dealt with the “twisties” during his career, told The Washington Post: “Simply, your life is in danger when you’re doing gymnastics. And then when you add this unknown of not being able to control your body while doing these extremely dangerous skills, it adds an extreme level of stress. And it’s terrifying, honestly, because you have no idea what is going to happen.”
After this episode, Biles subsequently withdrew from the team competition and then the all-around final a day later, placing her complete faith in her USA teammates. They went on to secure a silver medal in the team competition, and Sunisa Lee won the Olympic gold medal in the women’s all-around gymnastics final.
The IB reader who described Biles as “a phenomenal woman and athlete” went on to say: “To have the self-awareness of her limitations at that time – limitations that could have adversely affected herself and her team – and to have such belief in her teammates’ ability to succeed, is a great lesson for us. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’. We are stronger together and succeed when everyone’s abilities are recognised.”
I could not agree more with that sentiment. In these unprecedented times, teamwork could not be more important. Even if we’re all working remotely, or we only see our teammates in-person a few times a week, it’s vitally important to maintain a strong bond and exercise a culture of compassion and understanding if we want our teams to be successful.
Another IB reader commended how open Biles was about her “mental health, fears and lack of confidence in a world of perceived superheroes and competition-machines” – something that undoubtedly contributed to her case of the “twisties”.
This reader highlighted how insurers should take note of that and make efforts to create business environments that reward performance and competitiveness, while also acknowledging that we’re all human and can all suffer cases of the “twisties”.
While underwriting a complex risk or figuring out a problematic insurance program is not a life or death decision – as might be the case for elite gymnasts – there are often times when turning to a teammate, a manager or even a colleague in the industry is the best step forward.
There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Insurance really is a people business.