I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that the whole point of the Olympics is to bring together the best of the best athletes, worldwide. These athletes are so much more talented than many of us can even dream of being, but for some critics that’s still not enough. They’re bringing home literal gold. Why can’t we, collectively, just let Olympic winners celebrate their wins, and by extension, their status as the best of the best?
On July 26, 2021, Tom Daley and Matty Lee, of Great Britain, won the gold medal for the men’s synchronized 10m platform diving competition. The NBC Olympics TikTok posted several angles of their dive, giving viewers the winning dive from all sides. The clip wrapped with a shot of one jumping onto the other and wrapping his legs around him, two hugging and patting each other on the back in celebration. It should be a sweet, celebratory moment between two teammates, but the TikTok’s comments were flooded with suggestive comments and insinuations. “The hug at the end was sus” and several variations of it pop up at a quick scroll, with several other comments calling out negative implications. “If two girls shared a hug like that nobody would blink,” one person defended. “They won a gold medal, let them be happy.”
Why are we equating a celebratory hug to anything remotely sexual? Because they’re still in their speedos? Because it’s still not acceptable for men to show emotion? Or is it because Tom Daley is gay? Frankly, if these men had chosen to fling their swim caps into the air like a graduate or spin in circles until they threw up or something equally as childish, I wouldn’t begrudge them that either. Not only do they deserve to be celebrating, but they should be celebrated.
But Simone Biles, for example, has been criticized for year over the way she carries herself and her wins. She’s one of the – if not the – greatest gymnasts of all time. The NYT says it. CNN says it. She’s had four gymnastics moves named after her, and she has the most world championship wins of any gymnast in history. We’ve put so much pressure on her to win – and then applied additional pressure for those wins.
When she pulled off a move that no other gymnast has in competition, she was penalized – whether that’s because they didn’t want her to make off with the gold too easily or because they wanted to discourage others from trying a more dangerous move is unclear, but it’s unacceptable either way. What are young girls going to think when they see this incredible talent that they look up to having the points she’s rightfully earned withheld, or being ridiculed for being proud of herself?
When Simone’s leotard was embellished with her last name at the U.S. Classic – something that the rest of her teammates were supposed to have, too, until they realized one of the names was too long – people took offense, implying that the display was cocky despite WCC teammate Jordan Chiles also having a personalized leotard – both of which were completed before they decided not to move forward with them. This girl can pull off feats that nobody else can. We should all be shouting from the rooftops how incredibly talented she is, but instead we’re trying to diminish what she’s capable of, whether we think she’s too cocky for it or that it’s unfair others can’t meet her standards.
Since when did the Olympics move away from an actual competition and become adjacent to a children’s soccer meet filled with participation ribbons? Why are we suddenly trying to force ideals of toxic masculinity onto gold medal winners? Unless you’re here to celebrate alongside them, leave Olympians – and their wins – alone.