Simone Biles makes stunning withdrawal; U.S. women’s gymnastics takes silver

By Emily GiambalvoJuly 27, 2021 at 1:39 p.m. EDT

TOKYO — When Simone Biles soars through the air, her skills flow in an effortless rhythm that makes the extraordinary seem simple. She has been superhumanly dominant for nearly a decade, with a load of pressure and expectations always resting on her shoulders. But as Biles pushed off the vaulting table Tuesday night, her first flight of the evening, a peculiar sight emerged: She looked lost and shaken as she flipped and twisted, unable to perform the skill she intended.

So Biles did the unthinkable: She stepped away from the meet and her role in her country’s quest for another Olympic gold medal in the women’s gymnastics team competition.

After her unusual vault, Biles scurried out of the arena with a medical staffer by her side. She said she realized she wasn’t in “the right head space.” When Biles returned to the competition floor, she pulled her sweatsuit over her leotard and hugged her three teammates, who suddenly became aware they would have to compete without her.

At first, they were stressed and in tears. Ultimately, they earned a silver medal, placing second to the Russian Olympic Committee team.

Simone Biles and the price of being a GOAT

At 24, Biles is the veteran on the team. But she says she doesn’t trust herself as she used to. The sport doesn’t feel as much fun, she says. Nerves bubble to the surface, especially in the high-stakes environment of an Olympic gymnastics team final. And Tuesday, it all became too much for the world’s best gymnast.

“I know that this Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself,” Biles said afterward, tearing up. “I came here, and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. So that just hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

Biles stands among the world’s most popular athletes. She holds power to spark change with her words. She has been an outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics, the national governing body she represents, and how it failed to protect gymnasts from sexual abuse. Biles is the only self-identified survivor of former national team doctor Larry Nassar’s crimes still competing at the elite level.

After the United States qualified for the team final in second place Sunday, Biles wrote on social media, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”

When asked about those comments following her decision to withdraw from the team final, Biles said, “Yeah, that s— [is] heavy.”

Five years ago, when Biles led the United States to a gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she probably wouldn’t have made the choice to withdraw, she told reporters. Biles said she might have pushed through, attempting dangerous skills while second-guessing herself and “fighting all those demons” that occupied her mind. In 2021, she said, withdrawing was the right option — for her safety and even for the team’s medal chances.

“We want to walk out of here,” Biles said. “Not be dragged out of here on a stretcher or anything. So it’s like, got to do what’s best for me, and that was what was best for the team.”

Biles arrived in Tokyo with the expectation that she could earn up to five gold medals. Now she has a silver and a spot in five individual finals — the all-around competition, as well as the final for each apparatus. But she doesn’t know what lies ahead for her at these Games.

Here’s what is left on Simone BIles’s Olympic schedule

“We’re going to take it a day at a time, and we’ll see what happens,” Biles said. She confirmed that she had no injury — “Just my pride is hurt a little bit.”

With the all-around final Thursday, Biles acknowledges that there will be a quick turnaround. Annie Heffernon, the vice president of the U.S. women’s gymnastics program, said USA Gymnastics has a plan to help get Biles the professional support she needs. Biles said therapy has helped her in the past with mental health challenges. But this high-stress atmosphere of the Olympics made the struggle on the competition floor too much to overcome.

“Going into the next couple days, it’s like …” Biles said, pausing to collect her emotions as her teammates wrapped their arms around her. “Sorry,” she said. “It is what it is. Whatever happens, happens.”

Biles could return to herself — a dominant gymnast who understands that her performance here is secondary. Or she might not feel comfortable enough to compete again. Biles said her goal for the rest of the Olympics is to “focus on my well-being and [that] there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”

As Biles trained for her second Olympics, she said she wanted the Games to be about herself — not about what others thought and not all those otherworldly expectations that she can somehow usually meet anyway. As these Games approached, Biles said, she felt that mind-set drifting. The struggles seeped into her training, prompting mental errors. The vault in the team final was the first public sign that something was not right, but her teammates had witnessed similar episodes in practices.

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“She was giving us a little heart attack,” teammate Jordan Chiles said.

“It just sucks that it happens here at the Olympic Games, because it can happen any other time,” Biles said. “But with the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised how it played out.”

As Biles stood on the sideline Tuesday night wearing a white sweatsuit and cheering for her teammates, she processed the decision she had made on the sport’s biggest stage.

“At the end of the day, we’re human, too,” Biles said, “We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Read highlights from the competition below

How the ‘Today Show’ covered Simone Biles while the competition aired on Peacock

By Ben Strauss11:16 a.m.Link copied

On Tuesday morning’s edition of NBC’s “Today Show” there was breaking Olympics news to discuss. Simone Biles, perhaps the biggest star in the Tokyo Olympics, which are airing on NBC, had stunningly withdrawn from the team competition.

It was arguably one of the biggest stories of the Games so far and the “Today Show” went live to Hota Kotb at the gymnastics venue to discuss it. Kotb mentioned how Biles winced after a vault and how she believed there was probably a medical issue with Biles. She described Biles taking off her grips, putting on her sweatpants and explaining to her teammates that she is out.

“You guys this is a really, really big deal,” Kotb said. “It has sent like this ripple, this wave, through this arena.”

Kotb then conducted an interview with Biles’s teammate, Mykayla Skinner, who did not offer any more insight into Biles’s condition though the two women discussed the pressures of the athletes competing away from their families because of coronavirus protocols. Biles later said the issue was not physical.

What the “Today Show” did not air, though, was any video of Biles from Tuesday, including the vault in question. Nor did it show any of the action that Kotb described — Biles taking off her grips or talking to her teammates. The gymnastics competition was airing live on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, but was not slated to air on NBC until prime time Tuesday night.

NBC is putting some live content exclusively on Peacock in the hopes that it can drive subscribers to the service, which is competing and chasing the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus. It is also managing the time zone difference between Tokyo and the United States, saving some of the most popular content to air in prime time. Kotb was sure to remind of viewers that the gymnastics coverage would air in its entirety in prime time during her segment.

But the Biles withdrawal created an awkward moment. It was a news story beyond the winners and losers of the event, something that the “Today Show” had to cover. And even as NBC viewers were left in the dark about what events looked like, clips began to circulate on social media. The “Today Show” also wasn’t the only NBC station to avoid the video. MSNBC covered the Biles news Tuesday morning, but only showed still photographs of the action.AdvertisementKey update

What’s next for Simone Biles?

By Matt Bonesteel10:16 a.m.Link copied

U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles departed the Olympic women’s team competition Tuesday because of what USA Gymnastics described as a “medical issue.” Her condition “will be addressed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,” USA Gymnastics said in a brief statement.

While her status for the rest of the Olympics is up in the air, Biles has qualified for all of the remaining women’s gymnastics events. Here’s the schedule. Each of these events will be aired live on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.

Women’s individual all-around: Thursday, 6:50 a.m. Eastern.

Biles is one of 24 gymnasts who qualified for the individual all-around event. In the individual all-around, each athlete does one routine on each apparatus: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Their scores are added together and whoever has the highest cumulative score is the winner.

Sunisa Lee of the United States also qualified for the individual all-around (each country is limited to two gymnasts in both the individual all-around and the apparatus finals).

Women’s apparatus finals

Biles has qualified for all four apparatus finals by virtue of finishing in the top eight on each in qualifying. Each gymnast will get one exercise on each apparatus with the exception of vault, where the gymnasts will make two attempts and the scores of the two are averaged to determine the winner.

(All times Eastern)

Vault: Sunday, 4:45 a.m. Jade Carey also has qualified from the United States.

Uneven bars: Sunday, 6:27 a.m. Lee also has qualified from the United States.

Floor exercise: Monday, 4:45 a.m. Carey also has qualified from the United States.

Balance beam: Tuesday, 4:48 a.m. Lee also has qualified from the United States.Advertisement

Simone Biles congratulates Russian gymnasts

By Cindy Boren9:42 a.m.Link copied

Her participation in the Olympics relegated to a day-to-day status because of what USA Gymnastics said was “a medical issue,” Simone Biles remained a formidable presence with her teammates, encouraging them in the gold medal team competition.

When it was over, she was among the first to walk over and congratulate the Russian Olympic Committee on winning gold and sending the U.S. gymnasts to a silver medal.

“Simone has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue,” USA Gymnastics announced. “She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”AdvertisementKey update

U.S. women take silver; Russian Olympic Committee wins gold

By Emily Giambalvo9:02 a.m.Link copied

Tokyo — When Simone Biles exited the arena, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal chances plummeted. The world’s best gymnast later returned to the sideline, but she withdrew from the competition for what USA Gymnastics cited as a “medical issue.”

Without Biles, the team scrambled to fill those holes in the lineup, and even though the United States had an opportunity to catch the Russian Olympic Committee heading into the final rotation, the Americans could not close the deal. The U.S. team earned the silver medal behind the ROC. A gap of more than three points separated the two nations after Jordan Chiles fell on a tumbling pass, crushing any hope the team had left. On the final routine from the ROC, Angelina Melnikova only needed to avoid disaster, and she hit her routine, bringing the team’s total to a 169.528, well ahead of Team USA’s 166.096.

Biles only performed on vault, and she didn’t execute the skill she intended. Her low score there pushed the Americans behind the ROC from the start, and navigating the next three rotations without Biles was too much to manage. The Russians had two falls on beam, which opened the door for Team USA, but the United States still would have needed an excellent rotation. Small mistakes from Grace McCallum and the fall from Chiles were detrimental. But the largest blow throughout was the absence of Biles, who usually earns the team’s best score on vault, beam and floor.Advertisement

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