August 1 is Spider-Man Day, celebrating Marvel Comics’ best-known character in all his myriad incarnations. This year, August 1 also happens to be the first day of gymnastics individual event finals at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. If you are in Japan, where it is already tomorrow (relative to the United States): ハッピー スパイダーマン デー! Team USA gymnast Jordan Chiles, an avid Spider-Fan, performs her floor exercise accompanied by a suite of music from the Spider-Man films, including the quote from the classic theme song for the 1960’s animated TV show.
At the U.S. Team Olympic Trials in June, she greeted audiences with Spidey’s trademark web-spinning hand gesture, and tweeted about it:
And she’s clearly a fan of current Spider-Man actor Tom Holland:
One more time for those in the back.
Chiles’ superhero appreciation isn’t limited to the Spider-Verse, though. She competed in the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championship in this Wonder-Woman-inspired leotard.
Olympic gymnasts are, of course, as close as real human beings will ever come to channeling Spider-Man’s superhuman agility and grace. All the Spider-People (-Man, -Woman, -Girl, -Ham, -Gwen, et al.) are capable of impossible acrobatics, ridiculous acts of balance and coordination, and are known to stick the landings.
But we can’t complete the athletic-superheroic analogy without also mentioning Chiles’ teammate, world champion Simone Biles. Biles made news this week by withdrawing from several key events, including the all-around competition, citing mental and physical health concerns. Although Biles was a heavy favorite to win gold, her choice to not participate is, in an unconventional way, an extraordinary statement about the conundrum of this particular Olympics.
The 2021 Olympic Games are a pandemic-informed paradox — they probably shouldn’t be happening, but people generally love that they’re happening. The sensible reasons for postponing the first time have not sufficiently changed. There’s an ongoing global pandemic, and we’re gathering envoys from all the world’s nations in a place where COVID cases are rising… and then they’re all going to return home, and… HUH?
And yet the games themselves are amazing and spectacular and represent everything we missed during the social-distancing protocols. As a fan of the Olympics, as a nerd who’s not good at any sport, I can’t stop watching the absorbing, constant TV coverage of the Perfect Pandemic Restart Button.
Arguably the biggest star of the Games has chosen to be present, but not to compete. Over the past year, how many important life events have we sacrificed for the sake of personal and public health, for mental and physical well-being? We’ve all made such sacrifices, in big and little ways. As an observer I can’t think of a more powerful (and yes, responsible) way to embody the conflicted nature of these Olympics than what Simone Biles did this week.
Meanwhile, Jordan Chiles and her amazing friends will carry on, doing whatever a spider can. Sunisa Lee stepped up to take Biles’ place in the all-around, and became the first Asian American gymnast to win the gold medal in that event.
And, although not participating in the 2021 Games, Laurie Hernandez (Olympic medalist for Team USA at the 2016 Games) merits mention here for her slew of Avengers-themed competition outfits, inspired by Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon/Captain America.
And can we take one more look at Jordan Chiles to note the perfect, iconic THWIP-fingers? We sure can. Happy Spider-Man Day, true believers!
P.S.: Why is Spider-Man the greatest superhero? (A.K.A., a question we happily revisit on every Spider-Man Day)
1. Behind the big-eyed mask, he could be anyone. Black, White, Asian, anyone. Often a woman.
2. His skills are better-suited for a public safety officer than an avenging vigilante. The danger sense, the super-reflexes, the rescue lines and literal safety nets. He’s the only superhero who spends more time pulling people out of danger than beating the pulp out of them.
3. This one is entirely personal, but indulge me: as a young kid, watching the origin-story episode, I didn’t quite get the catching-or-not-catching-the-robber-who-later-kills-Uncle-Ben turn in the story, as it relates to personal responsibility. So, my mom, who cares not a whit for superheroes but watched the cartoon with me, had to explain that part. Spider-Man’s is the only superhero origin based on a moral lesson that my young dumb kid brain couldn’t grasp until my mother parsed it for me, and for that I will always love Spider-Man, and my mom.