All eyes were on Simone Biles on Tuesday, waiting for the great gymnast to come up with something that once again stuns the world.
Fans were stunned by the end of the women’s artistic gymnastics team final, but in a way no one likes to see. The 24-year-old American withdrew from the event after a jump and her lowest score ever on apparatus at the Olympics.
Biles told reporters in Japan that she has no idea where she is in the air after her safe. Feeling that her head was not in the performance, she feared that she would injure herself or spoil her teammates’ medal chances by continuing. She’s chosen to put her sanity ahead of her sport, like Japanese tennis player and Olympian Naomi Osaka, who recently took a few months away from the game.
“It’s very unfortunate that it has to happen at this point… it sucks when you fight with your own head,” Biles said.
The Americans entered the team final in second place behind the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee, the first time in 11 years that the United States has found itself anywhere but first after the qualifying round. Biles ‘teammates Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles fought in Biles’ absence – though the veteran was never far away, cheering the team on from the sidelines. But the shorthanded group couldn’t do enough to beat the gold medalist ROC, finishing with silver and ending the United States’ race to the top of the sport. The Americans entered Tokyo with five consecutive world titles and two consecutive Olympic gold medals in London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Biles, who needs four podiums in Tokyo to become the most decorated male or female gymnast in history, was open to the pressure she feels to perform.
“It wasn’t an easy day or my best, but I got through it,” she wrote in an Instagram post earlier at the Games after struggling in the preliminary round. “I really feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders sometimes. I know I erase it and make it feel like the pressure isn’t affecting me, but damn it sometimes it’s hard.
She was praised by other athletes, celebrities and fans on Tuesday for prioritizing her mental health.
“All of these athletes dream of these moments their entire lives,” Rio teammate Aly Raisman told NBC. “I hope Simone is doing well… Simone, like everyone else, is doing her best. Simone is there to encourage her teammates, support them as best she can.
American figure skater Adam Rippon, who won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Games, said he couldn’t imagine the pressure Biles was feeling.
“I send her so much love,” he wrote in a tweet. “It’s easy to forget that she’s still human. WE LOVE YOU. “
Hoda Kotb, an NBC “Today” host who is in Japan to cover the Games, said Biles has already won.
“She’s a class act,” Kotb wrote on Twitter. “Withdrew from tag team competition after her jump… stayed and cheered on her teammates… gave them chalk for their hands… encouraged… hugged them. She has already won.
A statement from US Gymnastics said Biles’ withdrawal was due to a “medical issue” and that she would be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions. She is set to defend her Olympic title in the all-around final on Thursday and also qualified for the four individual finals later in the Games.
- COVID-19 outbreaks: Tokyo reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections on Tuesday. The Japanese capital reported 2,848 new cases, surpassing an earlier record of 2,520 on January 7. Experts had warned that the most contagious Delta variant could cause an increase during the Olympics, with cases among unvaccinated youth increasing as Japan’s vaccination campaign loses steam due to provide uncertainty. About 25.5% of Japanese have been vaccinated.
- The golden girl of Bermuda: Triathlete Flora Duffy was already a local celebrity in her native Bermuda, but her star is skyrocketing after winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal on Tuesday.
Duffy is one of two Bermudan athletes competing in Tokyo 2020. With a population of 63,000, it is the smallest nation or territory to win Olympic gold.
“He’s taller than me and it’s a really cool moment,” said Duffy, 33.
With files from The Associated Press
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