Tokyo—Only minutes into the Olympic Games team final Tuesday, Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of her generation or any other, lost her special awareness on a vault and stumbled on the landing.
Biles, the four-time Olympic and 19-time World champion, walked to where Team USA had gathered and informed her teammates and coaches she was withdrawing from the competition, citing mental health concerns, knocking these Olympic Games of their already shaky bearings.
Biles rocked the Tokyo Olympics again Wednesday afternoon with the announcement that she will not defend her all around time Thursday and a decision that raises the likelihood that the Games and NBC will lose their biggest star before the most troubled Olympics in 40 years even hit their halfway point.
“After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”
The statement did not address whether will compete in the individual apparatus finals which start Monday. Jade Carey, Biles’ U.S. teammate, will replace her in the all around competition.
Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals.
Even before Biles’ most recent announcement the Games were still reeling from her initial withdrawal the night before.
“It’s not really about the scoring, it’s not really about the medals,” Biles said late Tuesday night “I understand some people will say something, but at the end of the day, we are who we are as people.
“I say put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and a person that you really are, rather than just battle through it. … Hopefully I’ll get back there and compete a couple more events. We’ll see.”
The first sign of trouble came on Biles’ vault. She planned to do a Yurcenko 2 1/2, but only managed 1 1/2 rotations before stumbling on the landing. She received a 13.766 score, well before her usual marks in an event in which she is the Olympic champion and a two-time Worlds gold medalist.
“I did not choose to do a one-and-a-half,” Biles said laughing. “I tried to do a two-and-a-half, and that just was not clicking. It’s very uncharacteristic of me, and it just sucks that it happened here at the Olympic Games. With the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised how it played out.
“So it definitely wasn’t my best work.”
Biles said she has increasingly felt pressure from being the face of these Olympic Games. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse by former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Larry Nassar has been a vocal and persistent critic of USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and FBI’s handling of the Nassar case.
“In the back gym, coming in today, it was like fighting all those demons, ‘I have to put my pride aside, I have to do it for the team,” Biles said. “At the end of the day, I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health, and not jeopardize my health and well-being. …
“I just don’t trust myself as much as I used to. I don’t know if it’s age. I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun, and I know that this Olympic Games,” she continued starting to weep, “I wanted it to be for myself.
“I was still doing it for other people, so it hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
More to come on this story.
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