Biles returns to Olympic competition, wins bronze on beam
TOKYO (AP) — Simone Biles isn’t going home with a fistful of gold medals. A mental block — one brought on by exhaustion or stress or something the American gymnastics star still can’t quite grasp — that forced her to pull out of four Olympic finals saw to that.
Yet standing on the podium Tuesday, a bronze medal hanging around her neck and tears in her eyes, the 24-year-old Biles may have claimed something far more valuable: a piece of herself back.
From the “twisties” that have haunted her for a week. From the endless speculation about her state of mind. From the hype machine — one, admittedly, she fed into at times — that set expectations so high coming to Tokyo nothing short of the impossible would have been enough.
It all became too much. A week ago, her internal wires got crossed when she hopped on uneven bars during practice. Suddenly, she couldn’t spin. She could barely move. She still doesn’t quite know why. And if she’s being honest, the wires still aren’t reconnected. She’s not sure when they will be.
“It was something that was so out of my control,” Biles said. “But the outcome I had, at end of the day, my mental and physical health is better than any medal. So I couldn’t be mad.”
Biles and coach Cecile Landi adjusted her balance beam routine to ease her anxiety, switching out a dismount that required her to twist for one with two simpler backflips instead, a skill she hadn’t done in competition in 12 years, half a lifetime ago. Even with the degree of difficulty lowered, she earned a 14.000, good enough for third behind Chinese teammates Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing.
Afterward, she chatted with IOC President Thomas Bach, then wiped away tears after accepting her seventh Olympic medal, tied with Shannon Miller for the most by an American gymnast. A wave of relief washed over her following a turbulent eight days that shifted the focus from the Tokyo Games to the mental health of the athletes who compete under the rings.
“We’re not just entertainment, we’re humans,” Biles said. “And there are things going on behind the scenes that we’re also trying to juggle with as well, on top of sports.”
Biles thought she had it under control. Then the Americans finished a surprising second to the Russian team in qualifying. She sensed the weight of the world on her shoulders. During the first vault rotation in the team final, the weight became too much. Shaken, she took herself out of the final three events and watched as her teammates held on for silver.
The decision made her a touchstone of sorts. Yes, there was a lot of support. She felt “embarrassed” when a trip through the Olympic Village included a steady stream of people coming up to tell her how much she meant to them. There was a lot of hate, too, one of the reasons she moved her Twitter app to the back of her phone, hopefully tamping down the temptation to search her mentions.