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Figure Skating Is Hard: Be Nice to Team USA

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The 2021 Summer Olympics brought the spotlight on mental health for athletes in the Olympics, more so than ever before. Simone Biles took a step that not many athletes had previously taken before, especially in an Olympic year: she took a break. Her mental health got her to such a dangerous place that she couldn’t do any twists and pulled out of most Olympic gymnastics events. The anxiety and pressure of being favored to win gold messed with her brain that bad. With the 2022 Winter Olympics starting February 3, the same principle needs to be held for figure skaters and other athletes competing.

Gracie Gold, a top competitive skater who went to the Winter Olympics in 2014, had gone through such a horrible depression from the pressure of skating that she withdrew from competitions and was ineligible for the 2018 Winter Olympics. She ended up in rehabilitation for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder and noted that she was pushing herself too hard and was being encouraged to have disordered eating. Though Gracie was able to get back to a good headspace, make a comeback and skate a clean short program at 2022 Nationals, not many figure skaters do. It’s sad to see people who were once so in love with skating fall out of love with it because of the constant training and pressure put on them.

Our current national champion, Mariah Bell, had worked for the previous three Olympic seasons to try to get on Team USA. In addition to finally getting Olympian status, she’s the oldest woman to earn a first-place title at the US National Championships at the age of 26. These athletes have been proving themselves for multiple years, mainly since the Olympic criteria for figure skaters don’t just depend on if they have one good season. They have to perform well for a couple of years nationally and internationally. This is why we need to be gentle with what we say, Tweet, Snap, etc. These athletes have been working for years, if not decades, to get to this moment.

After the upset of Nathan Chen’s short program at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he fell on almost every jumping pass, he still competed in his free skate program. Nathan’s decision for redemption was probably the best choice of his career since his free skate broke records for having the most quadruple rotation jumps in a single program and the highest free skate score ever in Olympic history. I want so badly for Nathan Chen to win the gold medal this time around, but that same pressure is what got him fifth place at the 2018 Olympics. The Games are for the athletes, not for us. Whether our Team USA skaters fall or get the top scores, we need to have their back. I know that a lot of the time, people get caught up in how many medals we can win and the rivalry between countries, but at the end of the day, these people competing are not just toys; they’re human beings.

We don’t know their whole story. We don’t know how or what happened for these skaters to make it where they are today, but what we can do is be kind. We need to continue listening to athletes and giving them a voice. When we provide them with the space and the cheerful talk that they need, they’re going to perform better and leave the Olympics in a good headspace where they’re happy with themselves.  

Baylee is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, originally from Clearwater, Florida. She is a Political Science major, with two minors in Legal Studies and Diversity and Social Inequality. When she's not figure skating, you can find her reading a book on campus and drinking Starbucks.
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