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Simone Biles will not make any immediate decisions about any further participation in these Olympics after she withdrew from the women’s team final mid-competition at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, citing mental health concerns.
“We’re going to see about Thursday, we’ll take it a day at a time,” said Biles of her prospects of lining up in the individual all-around final. “I know tomorrow [Wednesday] we have a bit of a break from training so that’ll be really nice, to have a mental rest day.”
The four-times Olympic champion explained that she decided not to compete as she had been struggling mentally in recent days and after a difficult opening vault, so she decided that she wanted to “take a back seat” with full faith in her teammates to win a medal. When asked later what her goal was for these Games, Biles replied: “To focus on my wellbeing. You know there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”
In her absence, the Russian Olympic Committee clinched the gold medal, becoming the first team to win gold over the United States in a major team competition since 2010.
In the opening rotation, Biles attempted her Amanar vault but her form deteriorated in the air and she only managed one and a half twists before finishing with a low landing. She received a score of 13.700, the lowest of the rotation. Biles was immediately surrounded by her coaches, before being whisked away from the arena by one of the team’s trainers. When she returned, she played no further part in the competition but throughout the night she remained in good spirits, continually cheering for her teammates.
During the competition, amid speculation about her condition, USA Gymnastics issued a statement: “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
But speaking after the competition, Biles told reporters: “After that vault, I was like: ‘I’m not in the right headspace, I’m not going to lose a medal for this country and for these girls’ because they worked way too hard for me to go out there and have them lose a medal.”
Biles said that her workout on the morning before she was due to compete was “OK” but during the five-and-a-half-hour wait her composure deteriorated: “I was just shaking and I could barely nap. I’ve just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out here and have fun. Warmup at the back went a little bit better but once I came out here I was like: ‘No, mental is not there so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.’”
After telling the people around her that she thought her teammates needed to compete without her, they initially reassured her that she would be fine. She decided to call it for herself. She would not risk herself or her team a medal: “You usually don’t hear me say things like that because I’ll usually persevere and push through things but not to cost the team a medal. So they were like: ‘OK, if Simone says this then we need to take this very seriously.’ So I had the correct people around me to do that.”
A measure of the team chemistry came during Team USA’s uplifting, positive late night press conference as Biles frequently attempted to shift the credit entirely to her teammates. She said numerous times that “they” won the silver medal and that it “had nothing to do with me”. Jordan Chiles, Biles’s friend and teammate, immediately registered her objection.
“But at the end of the day, we did though,” Chiles said. “This medal was definitely for her because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here where we are right now. We wouldn’t be silver Olympic medallists because of who she is as a person. So kudos to you, girlie, this is all for you! Yes, we did this, but you’re part of this team and you deserve it too.”
Along with Biles deciding for herself that she was not in the right frame of mind to compete, another memory will be how the Americans rallied behind courageous performances as gymnasts who had not initially been on the start list were drafted in without any notice. Chiles was drafted into uneven bars and the balance beam, hitting solid routines both times. According to Biles, Sunisa Lee had not even warmed up her tumbling passes on the day but she closed off the day with a clean floor routine.
However, the Russian gymnasts have been rising for some time and they registered their ability in the qualifying round by reaching the final in first place above a US team with Biles’s scores counting. Despite their resilience, the US were unable to overcome the level of quality from their rivals, particularly a sublime performance from 16-year-old Viktoria Listunova who was only old enough to compete in the Olympic Games because the event was postponed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Still, as all four US gymnasts left their press conference, they did so with wide smiles plastered across their faces. They had won their silver medals in the right way and that was enough.
As the USA and the ROC reaffirmed their status as the top two teams in the world, Great Britain’s young quartet of Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova, Amelie Morgan and Alice Kinsella became the first British gymnasts to win the women’s team Olympic bronze medal since 1928.