by Will Graves
TOKYO (AP) – Simone Biles isn’t going home with a handful of gold medals. A mental block – a fatigue or stress or something the American gymnastics star still doesn’t understand – forced her to pull out of four Olympic finals.
Yet standing on the podium on Tuesday, with a bronze medal hanging around his neck and tears in his eyes, Biles, 24, might have claimed something more valuable: a piece of himself.
From the “twists” that haunted her for a week. From endless speculation about his state of mind. From the hype machine—one, of course, she feeds at times—that set Tokyo’s expectations so high that anything less than impossible would have sufficed.
It’s all been too much. A week ago, her internal strings were crossed when she climbed the uneven bars during practice. Suddenly, she couldn’t spin. She could hardly walk. She still doesn’t know why. And if he’s honest, the wires are still not reconnected. He is not sure when they will be.
“It was something that was out of my control,” Biles said. “But the result I got at the end of the day, my mental and physical health is better than any medal. So I couldn’t go crazy.”
Biles and coach Cecil Landy adjusted their balance beam routine to ease her anxiety, replacing a dismount that required her to turn for one with two simple backflips, a skill she’d mastered in 12 years. Didn’t in competition, half a life ago. Despite the low degree of difficulty, she earned 14.000, placing third behind Chinese teammates Guan Chenchen and Tang Shijing.
Later, she chatted with IOC President Thomas Bach, then wiped away tears after accepting her seventh Olympic medal, the most tied by an American gymnast to Shannon Miller. A wave of relief came after eight days of turbulent days, which shifted focus from the Tokyo Games to the mental health of the athletes competing at the bottom of the ring.
“We’re not just entertainers, we’re human,” Biles said. “And there are things going on behind the scenes that we’re trying to do side-by-side at the top of the game as well.”
Biles thought it was under his control. Then the Americans took a surprising second place for the Russian team in qualifying. He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. The weight became too much during the first vault rotation in the team finals. Shaken, he pulled himself out of the final three events and watched as his teammates held for silver.
The decision made him 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 telling her how much she meant to them. There was also a lot of hate, one reason why she moved her Twitter app to the back of her phone, in hopes that would reduce the temptation to search for mentions of her.
“It’s not good for me right now,” she said.
There was no phone when he appeared on the floor, with about 5,000 crystals stitched in a red, white and blue leopard. If she was nervous, it hardly showed. She warmed up and then sat down on the floor next to teammate and newly minted all-around champion Sunissa Lee to watch highlights from other sports on a large video board.
Her routine was steady, with seemingly dozens of cameras capturing her every move. He made a short hop after landing his double-pike, then saluted the stand. One last bow, perhaps, in a career that includes 32 major international medals and a spot in his sport.
It is too early to think of Paris.
“I just need to process this Olympics first,” she said.
Although she hasn’t officially announced her retirement – she has indicated she wants to stay in some fashion until the 2024 Games to honor coaches Laurent and Cecil Landy, who are both French – a long layoff awaits. Is. She continues to headline the post-Olympic tour through the fall. What happens after that is a mystery, even to Biles.
Two weeks ago, she was a heavy favorite, winning four golds. Maybe five. A week ago, her body couldn’t do what it had trained it to do for a long time. Even on Mondays, she wanted to “puke” from seeing others swirling their way through their routines.
Justice was offered on Tuesday night. Five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, she was stunned when her bronze on the beam was met with a slew of shoulders, a testament to her double standard. He earned another in Japan in conditions no one could have imagined.
“It’s definitely sweet,” she said.
Even if it’s the last.
Digging into the background, Biles opened the doors to teammates who have long competed in her considerable shadow. The 18-year-old Lee, who finished fifth on the balance beam, won the Olympic all-around title. She finished with three medals in Tokyo, including silver in the team final and bronze on the uneven bars.
Lee became the fifth straight American woman to capture the all-round title. Mykayla Skinner, placed in the vault finals after scratching Biles, headed for silver. On Monday, Jade Carey’s long journey to the Olympics ended with a victory at floor exercise, when Biles gave her a rousing speech after a Nightmare Vault performance in which she slipped and grieved at the end of the runway. Survived serious injury.
It was not expected to take on the role when Biles arrived. He did it anyway, repaying the people who have spent the last eight years doing this for him. When asked if she would change anything about her experience in Japan, she shook her head.
“Nothing,” she said. “I won’t change anything.”
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