Biles said she was not in a good place mentally to compete
By Juliet Macur
In the biggest upset for the United States at the Tokyo Games, Simone Biles withdrew from the gymnastics team competition after it had started on Tuesday, handing Russia’s squad a path to the gold medal and ending American domination of the event for more than a decade.
Biles, Team USA’s star, said she pulled out of the event because she wasn’t in the right place mentally to perform the difficult and often dangerous skills she is known for, after feeling so much pressure to be successful. She had been struggling with the stress of being the greatest gymnast in history, she said, and outside expectations were just too hard to combat.
Before the event on Tuesday, she said she began “fighting all of those demons,” and couldn’t hold them back.
“At the end of the day, I have to do what was right for me,” she said, adding, “It just sucks that it happened at the Olympic Games.”
She said she was not certain whether she would compete again at the Tokyo Games, starting with the all-around final on Thursday, an individual competition.
Russia finished with a total score of 169.528, more than 3 points ahead of the United States, which won silver, at 166.096. Britain won the bronze medal with a score of 164.096.
The Russian team had surprised the Americans in qualifying on Sunday, raising the pressure even higher for the U.S. team to maintain its unchallenged success in the sport. The Americans were aware of their impressive winning streak, which included Biles and the team known as “the Final Five” at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and Gabby Douglas and “the Fierce Five” at the 2012 London Games.
The last time the United States lost a team final in the Olympics or world championships was back in 2010, to Russia. Since then, the United States has been far ahead of the world in the sport, winning world championships and Olympics by at least 4 points, a wide margin in a sport where competitors are often divided by less than a single point. At the Rio Games, the Americans crushed the Russians by more than 8 points.
The U.S. team in Tokyo did what it could to preserve its legacy of success. But without Biles, the Americans simply could not keep up with the Russians. They appeared to have a chance at gold going into the final event, the floor exercise, though, and were only eight-tenths out of first. An untimely fall by Jordan Chiles, who landed on her rear end on one of her tumbling passes, gave Chiles a score of just 11.7 points, putting the Russians securely in the lead, for good.
One day after its men’s team won the Olympic gold medal, the Russian team’s women executed its challenging routines with precision and grace, and the U.S. team simply could not keep up. It didn’t help the Americans’ confidence that it came into the final trying to bounce back from a second-place finish to Russia in qualifying.
During that qualification on Sunday, Biles and some of her teammates made uncharacteristic mistakes because they were nervous. Biles stumbled on her balance beam dismount, taking a huge step and several tiny ones backward. On the floor exercise, she stepped so far out of bounds that she slid down the edge of the slanted, raised competition surface. On vault, she stepped off the mat after landing.
Those errors, as well as those of her teammates, were wiped clean for Tuesday’s final. Yet even though the Americans took deep breaths and tried to gather their composure, it wasn’t enough to reestablish the United States at the top.