Gail Collins and Bret Stephens Talk About the Olympics: “It still comes down to insanely gifted and determined athletes and the families and teams that nurture them.”

From a conversation between New York Times columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens about the Olympics:

Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I think I’ve been … wrong.

Gail Collins: Bret — wrong? What? President Biden’s social spending plan? Medicare for all? Tell me more.

Bret: Oh, you know: universal health care, climate change, taxes on the rich, the Iran deal, broken-windows policing, critical race theory, the Kavanaugh nomination, Fauci.

But what I have in mind now is that I’m getting really into the Olympics, after jeering at them a few weeks ago.

Gail: So you’re post-jeer? What brought you around?

Bret: I think it has something to do with all the videos of the fans and family back home cheering their hometown heroes. I teared up watching footage of Suni Lee’s parents just as their daughter was winning gymnastics gold.

I know you’ve always been a fan. Are these Games living up to your expectations?

Gail: Yeah, or living up to different expectations, if that makes any sense. I’ve been very conscious of those empty stadium seats. But the fact that the Olympics are actually happening in the Covid world is moving.

Bret: Right. For all of the problems — corruption, doping, evil coaches, greedy TV networks — it still comes down to insanely gifted and determined athletes and the families and teams that nurture them. That’s especially true for Lee, whose parents came to the United States as Hmong refugees. What could be a greater vindication of the benefits of immigration than that?

Gail: I was glad women’s gymnastics had the first spotlight. Watching young women swing around on the bars and leap on the balance beam was one of the first experiences many Americans had with rooting for female athletes.

Bret: Would love your thoughts on the Simone Biles drama.

Gail: The outpouring of national sympathy was heartening. When we look back on these Games, it’ll probably be her story that’s most remembered.

Bret: My first reaction to her decision wasn’t positive: Quitting on her team just seemed like the opposite of the Olympian spirit.

But I changed my mind about this, too, thanks to a brilliant columnby Jason Gay, a friend from The Wall Street Journal. Jason made the point that it’s time to start treating mental health as an intrinsic part of physical health, not something unrelated to it. If Biles’s decision forces the public to think a little harder about the connection, that’s progress.

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