TOKYO — Simone Biles came to Tokyo as the star of the U.S. Olympic movement and perhaps the Games themselves. It all came to a stunning halt in the women’s gymnastics final on Tuesday night with an uncertain vault. And now, Biles says she’s unsure she’ll compete Thursday in the women’s all-around event.
During the first rotation of team competition, Biles attempted an Amanar vault only to roll out of it upon landing. The code for that vault posted when she saluted the judges, but in midair, things went awry.
The vault requires a roundoff back handspring onto the table followed by 2½ twists. Biles instead did just 1½ twists with a big leap forward after landing. She sat down and talked to U.S. team doctor Marcia Faustin, then headed to the back while her teammates moved on to uneven bars without her.
When Biles returned several minutes later, she hugged her teammates and took off her bar grips. And just like that, the greatest of all time’s night was over.
USA Gymnastics did not specify the nature of Biles’ medical issue, saying in a statement she “will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
But after she watched her teammates fall to the Russian Olympic Committee, Biles addressed the media. “After the performance I did, I just didn’t want to go on,” she said.
When asked whether she was injured, Biles responded, “No. Just a little injury to my pride.”
Biles had arrived in Tokyo primed to chase six gold medals. But she has shown signs of the mounting pressure. Sunday, after an uninspiring qualification effort, she posted on social media that she felt she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“It wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it,” she posted on Instagram. “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha!
“The Olympics is no joke!”
Six golds are now out of reach, but Biles could still equal the record of nine held by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina over three Olympic Games: Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964. Still, Biles spoke cautiously about her future at the Games.
“We’re going to take it a day at a time and see what happens,” she said, “I have to focus on my mental health.
“I just don’t trust myself as much anymore. I don’t know if it’s age, I’m just more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun. And I know this Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself. I’m still doing it for other people.”
“There were a couple of days when everybody tweets you and you feel the weight of the world. We’re not just athletes, we’re people at the end of the day, and sometimes you just have to step back. … I didn’t want to go out and do something stupid and get hurt. … I feel like a lot of athletes speaking up has really helped.
“It’s so big, it’s the Olympic Games, at the end of the day we don’t want to be carried out of there on a stretcher. … You have to be there 100% or 120% or you’re going to hurt yourself.”
Expectations for the U.S. team had been high, led by Biles, the reigning world and Olympic all-around champion. But the 24-year-old did not get off to a great start, with a disappointing score of 13.766 on the vault in the first rotation. All three Russians who vaulted scored higher, as did her U.S. teammates.
“I tried to go out there for the team, and they stepped up to the plate.”
After Biles withdrew, she served as the head cheerleader for the Americans, who hung on for silver.
Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles drew the U.S. within eight-tenths of a point through three rotations. ROC, however, never wavered on floor. And they erupted when 21-year-old Angelina Melnikova’s score assured them of the top spot on the podium.
It marked the first time in 11 years the U.S. found itself looking up at the scoreboard at someone else. Great Britain edged Italy for bronze.