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9 Feb, 2022 12:17

Olympic star Biles reacts after US broadcaster is accused of ‘shaming’ athlete

NBC has drawn criticism over its portrayal of a devastated Team USA great as she sat on the slopes after crashing
Olympic star Biles reacts after US broadcaster is accused of ‘shaming’ athlete

Pre-Winter Olympics favorite Mikaela Shiffrin crashed out after an early mistake in the winter slalom at the Beijing Games – and Simone Biles, whose mental health troubles at the Tokyo Olympics led to calls for greater consideration for athletes from the media and public, offered her support after American broadcaster NBC drew scorn for appearing to show the two-time champion suffering.

2014 slalom and 2018 giant slalom gold medalist Shiffrin held her head in her hands and gave an emotional interview in the aftermath of her second successive fall in a skiing race, suggesting that she may not fulfil her expected total of five events across the Games.

NBC, which faced accusations of hypocrisy after Biles' shock withdrawal from events at the 2020 Olympics from critics who believed its coverage had ramped up the pressure on the gymnastics great beforehand, again came under scrutiny for its coverage.

"NBC learned absolutely nothing from Simone Biles," fumed one viewer. "Now they are doing the same thing to Mikaela Shiffrin and it’s infuriating."

Four-time Olympic gymnastics champion Biles, who returned to win a balance beam bronze in Tokyo, is an inspiration to many athletes in Beijing who feel empowered to address mental health issues publicly.

Biles used her Twitter account, which has more than 1.7 million followers, to show her support for Shiffrin, then retweeted a message from human rights activist Charlotte Clymer.

"I don't know," Clymer rued in an apparent opinion on Shiffrin's treatment. "Shaming people just because they didn't perform well at the Olympics feels like the opposite of why we supposedly have the Olympics in the first place."

Shiffrin was clearly distraught as she struggled to gather herself and reflect on her slip on her first run.

"I had every intention to go full gas," the 26-year-old told one of the outlets to interview her, Eurosport, while her voice cracked as she admitted she was trying to process what had happened.

"There wasn't really space on the course to slip, not even a little bit. I didn't give myself space for that.

"In my experience, that mentality has brought my best skiing. Today, I went out on the fifth gate.

"It makes me second-guess the last 15 years – everything I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality.

"I'm just processing a lot and I feel really bad. There's a lot more going on today than just my little situation but I feel really bad for doing that."

The four-time world champion hinted that teammates could take her place in the remaining races she is due to take part in.

Mental health concerns have been an early feature of the Winter Olympics. Jamie Anderson, a two-time Team USA Olympic slopestyle champion, said she was planning "time off and self-care" after having an "emotional breakdown" the night before she finished ninth in her competition at the Games.

There were also fears for Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans' wellbeing after she shared a tearful video of herself when she was wrongly taken to a Covid facility amid confusion over her testing status, causing the International Olympic Committee to intervene.

Not everyone agreed with the suggestion that NBC had acted irresponsibly towards Shiffrin.

"Should the media lie and say she did really well?" asked one, while others speculated that the coverage may have been motivated by attracting higher ratings. "That she lived up to expectations? No. What happened, happened."

Shiffrin could target a successful return at the Super-G, downhill and combined races at the Games, which continue until February 20 2022.