‘This would not have happened’: Biles withdrawal draws comparisons to Strug, Karolyi gymnastics era

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(NEXSTAR) – Kerry Strug’s injury-hampered 1996 gold medal vault is one of the most indelible moments in United States Olympic history, but would it have happened today? That’s become a topic for debate in the wake of superstar Simone Biles withdrawing from the team competition and the individual all-around this week.

In a now-viral Facebook post, father Byron Heath posted about his decision to show his daughters Strug’s final vault at the Atlanta games, where she secured Team USA the gold despite suffering visible pain due to an ankle injury.

“For some reason I wasn’t as inspired watching it this time. In fact, I felt a little sick,” wrote Heath. “All I could see was how Kerri Strug looked at her coach, Bela Karolyi, with pleading, terrified eyes, while he shouted back ‘You can do it!’ over and over again…Coach Karolyi should have gotten his visibly injured athlete medical help immediately!”

In the hours since Biles’ withdrawal from the team competition, the spotlight on her has only intensified. With pundits across the spectrum weighing in on her decision.

As reported by Chron.com, Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz tweeted a clip of Strug’s performance with the comment, “Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles.”

The official account for AG Ken Paxton tweeted support for Biles and promised to handle an employee tweet, presumably Reitz’s “internally.” Others, including fellow Olympic legend Michael Phelps, have praised Biles for putting her health first.

“We carry a lot of things and a lot of weight on our shoulders,” Phelps said during the NBC broadcast Tuesday.

Whitney Harding, a Nexstar sports anchor and former high-level gymnast, trained with Marta Karolyi – Bela Karolyi’s wife and a fellow fixture on the US national coaching scene. She says the conversation around the changing culture is echoing across gymnastics.

“If Marta Karolyi was there, this would not have happened.’ And that goes two ways,” said Harding.

The first way, she explained shows the growth of the sport since USA Gymnastics cut ties with Marta and Bela Karolyi in 2018.

“[People in elite gymnastics] say this is proof, the sport has gotten healthier, and mental health has become a part that’s recognized,” Harding explained.

But there are others who see value in toughing it out through mental and physical pain.

“The other group of people that say, ‘If Marta was there, this wouldn’t have happened because she would have sucked it up, she would have gotten her head right. And she would have continued with the competition, because that is what you’re expected to do when you are the best female gymnast in the United States,'” said Harding. “So it’s definitely two different sides of the coin there.”

Biles herself has not mentioned or commented on the Karolyi connection.

“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events second-guessing myself,” Biles said of her to bow out of the team final. “So, I thought it would be better if I took a step back and let these girls go out there and do their job.”

Without Biles the Team USA Women’s Gymnastics Team won the silver medal behind Russia.

The 24-year-old reigning world and Olympic all-around champion has since said she will not compete in Thursday’s individual all-around competition.

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