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‘The thrill of victory’ for Simone Biles, the ‘agony of defeat’ for U.S. Women’s National Soccer team

Jimmy Myers
‘The thrill of victory’ for Simone Biles, the ‘agony of defeat’ for U.S. Women’s National Soccer team
Simone Biles PHOTO: FERNANDO FRAZÃO/AGÊNCIA BRASIL

It isn’t often that the old expression “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” — coined in the ABC television show “Wide World of Sports” — plays out so clearly and poignantly in the minds of American sports fans as it did last weekend.

On Saturday, Simone Biles experienced a significant “thrill of victory” as she returned to her world Olympic form with a dominant five-point win in the U.S. Classic gymnastics competition held at the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

Biles made international headlines when she experienced “the twisties,” a dangerous mental block that a gymnast can experience in midair during a routine, that knocked her out of the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Last weekend, she finished the U.S. Classic competition with a Yurchenko double pike maneuver on the balance beam. Her full-twisting double-back dismount from the balance beam, scrapped in the Tokyo Olympic competition two years ago and not attempted or completed before Biles introduced it in 2021, brought the house down. The fact that she took a step to the side, out of bounds, made no difference to the judges. It still received the highest score in the competition.

Biles’ five-point margin of victory over second-place finisher Leanne Wong was considered an everyday feat by her standards, far superior to any other gymnast. On a comparative scale, the margin between first and second place was about the same as the margin between second and 17th. And when one considers that this was achieved after a year’s absence from competition, it makes the accomplishment more remarkable.

It has been a long way back from the disappointment felt by this young woman two years ago. “I felt I let my country and my team down when I was unable to perform in Tokyo,” she said.

It seems like yesterday when Biles withdrew a quarter of the way through the Olympic team final after losing her bearings in mid-air on the vault. She would later admit that she had been struggling with “the twisties” block.  She went on to withdraw from the all-around final, where she had been favored to become the first woman to win two Olympic overall titles since Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska pulled off the feat in 1964 and 1968.

U.S. Women’s National Team COURTESY PHOTO

It has been two years since that dreadful time in Tokyo, and even though Biles admits to still being a little nervous when doing the twisting elements in her routines, the now-married 26-year-old superstar athlete — who had redefined her sport since 2013 and is considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time — is considering another run at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

On the other hand, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team shares the ignominious title of “the agony of defeat” following their elimination from the Women’s World Cup Soccer competition. They lost to Sweden 5-4 on penalty kicks in the quarterfinal round. The U.S. team, which came into the competition as the reigning two-time World Cup defending champions, just didn’t have it this time.

Although favored to become the first team to ever “three-peat” in Women’s World Cup play, the U.S. women struggled to score from the opening match of group play. When the team advanced to the knockout round, there was hope that the players could find their scoring punch. That did not happen, as the team set a record of futility by not scoring a goal in 238 minutes.

This young team showed its inexperience at the worst time. Led by veteran players Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and others, they were expecting to advance to the late stages of this World Cup event.

To their credit, they showed signs of unity as they outplayed Sweden for most of regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods.

But they were repeatedly denied scoring chances by the stellar goaltending of Sweden’s Zecira Mušovic.

Rapinoe, Sophia Smith, and Kelley O’Hara missed penalty kicks that could have pushed Team U.S.A. to victory. Rapinoe hit the crossbar, and O’Hara hit the post. Lina Hurtig scored the winning penalty kick goal for Sweden.

Following the 5-4 penalty shootout defeat, Rapinoe and Julie Ertz announced their retirements from international competition.

The United States will now move forward with a younger team.

gymnastics, Simone Biles, soccer, Sports, U.S. Women’s National Soccer team