After Mikaela Shiffrin, the star American skier, fell in the women’s slalom Wednesday, experiencing one of the most heartbreaking moments of her career, the NBC broadcast lingered on her as she sat hunched on the side of the slope, head down in her folded arms. The announcers called it a major disappointment.

To some fans, it felt like an uncomfortable or even exploitative intrusion in a dark moment. Many observers on social media drew a parallel to Simone Biles, the American gymnast who has openly talked about the burden of Olympic expectations and how they have affected her mental health, and consequently her performance.

It focused attention on how much sensitivity the news media, which must cover Olympic moments both triumphant and devastating, uses to handle the latter.

For many Olympians in the Winter Games, Biles has served as an inspiration, and they hope she has served as an instructive case for fans, journalists and broadcasters.

“Simone Biles’s message was that we’re not just athletes — that we are also humans and not robots,” said Anna Gasser, a gold medalist in snowboarding who is making her third Olympic appearance.

Shortly after Shiffrin’s fall, Biles tweeted in support of her.


On Wednesday, American snowboarder Jamie Anderson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle who finished a disappointing ninth in the event at these Games, took to Instagram to express her vulnerabilities.

“I just straight up couldn’t handle the pressure,” she wrote. “Had an emotional break down the night before finals and my mental health and clarity just hasn’t been on par. Looking forward to some time off and self care.”

One by one, and more than ever, Olympic athletes are displaying their vulnerable sides. It is a healthy shift, they say, for competitors who spend most of four years working in relative seclusion and are then expected to be perfect when their Olympic moment comes.