Simone Biles was forced to withdraw from the women’s team final at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, citing mental health concerns after a difficult opening vault.
The four-times Olympic champion said that she had been struggling mentally in recent days and after the vault, she decided that she wanted to “take a back seat” in the team final and she had full faith in her teammates to win a medal.
Biles will take things one day at a time instead of immediately making decisions about her presence in the all around final on Thursday. When asked by reporters later what her goal was for these Games, Biles replied: “To focus on my wellbeing. You know there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”
In her absence, the Russian Olympic Committee clinched the gold medal, comfortably defeating a USA team that performed admirably without their biggest star. It marks the first time that the United States have lost a major gymnastics team competition since 2010.
In the opening rotation, Biles had attempted her trusty Amanar vault, one she has almost never missed. However, as she launched herself into the air her form deteriorated and she only managed one and a half twists before a messy landing. The judge gave her an extremely low score of 13.700.
Biles was immediately surrounded by her coaches, before being whisked away from the arena by one of the team’s trainers. When she returned, she played no further part in the competition but throughout the night she appeared in good spirits, continually cheering for her teammates.
USA Gymnastics put out a statement saying her she had withdrawn on medical grounds. “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,” read the statement.
But speaking after the competition, Biles told reporters: “Even though it’s so big, it’s the Olympic Games. But at the end of the day it’s like we want to walk out of here, not be dragged out of here on a stretcher.
“I just don’t trust myself as much as I used to. And 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.
“It does suck when you do feel the weight of the world and you feel like there are no outlets for the amount of training that we do. We were totally prepared, but it just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head. Like, you want to do it for yourself but you’re still too worried about what everybody else is going to say, on the internet and stuff sometimes. So I just had to stay off of it for the past couple [of] days.”
Up against a ROC team that had already outscored USA in the qualifying competition with Biles, the Americans rallied behind solid performances, particularly from Sunisa Lee. But they were unable to overcome Russia’s supremacy and a sublime performance from 16-year-old Viktoria Listunova.
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Great Britain, meanwhile, secured a shock bronze with brilliant performances from Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova, Amelie Morgan and Alice Kinsella.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.