Simone Biles: Why has US superstar dropped out of Tokyo Olympics 2020 gymnastics events?

Simone Biles’ bid to claim her first Olympic gold medal of the Tokyo Games suffered a major setback when she withdrew after one rotation of the team event on Tuesday.USA Gymnastics then announced that she had also pulled out of Thursday’s women’s all-around final,Biles is due to compete in four individual finals, which are scheduled to take place next week.

Simone Biles withdrew from the artistic gymnastics women's team event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Picture: AFP via Getty Images
Simone Biles withdrew from the artistic gymnastics women's team event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

What happened?

Biles misjudged her opening vault in the team event, scoring 13.766, the lowest of the first rotation, before leaving the floor briefly with the US team trainer.

Although the 24-year-old returned, she put on her tracksuit and did not compete again as the Americans finished second to win the silver medal.

Simone Biles, right, speaks with her USA teammates. Picture: AFP via Getty Images
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US reserve Jordan Chiles stepped in to replace Biles, but the US were trailing the Russian Olympic Committee by a relatively wide 2.500 points after two of the four rotations. The Russians went on to win gold and Great Britain won a shock bronze, their first women’s team gymnastics medal since 1928.

It’s the first time the US have failed to win women’s team gold since Beijing 2008.

Not a physical injury

The US team, including Biles, then attended a press conference where the 24-year-old said her decision to withdraw was not due to physical injury. Instead, the four-time Olympic champion said that she was concerned the stress she was enduring was compromising her team’s medal chances.

Simone Biles, right, and team-mate Jordan Chiles celebrate on the podium after the USA won Olympic silver in the artistic gymnastics women's team final. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

Left shaking and stressed

Biles said she did not feel mentally right and it was a situation she had never experience before. “Today has been really stressful,” she said on Tuesday. “We had a workout this morning. It went OK. And then just that five-and-a-half-hour wait, I was just like, shaking. I could barely nap.

“I’ve just never felt like this going into a competition before. And I tried to go out here and have fun and warm up in the back when a little bit better. But then once I came out here, I was like, no, [the] mental is not there. So I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”

Biles also sits out the women’s all-around final

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On Wednesday, USA Gymnastics confirmed that Biles has also decided to withdraw from Thursday’s women’s all-around final.

“We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritising her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many,” said USA Gymnastics in a statement.

What happens now?

Biles is the reigning world and Olympic all-around champion and was bidding for a record six gold medals in Tokyo, having won four in Rio in 2016. That chance has now gone and it remains to be seen if she will want to take part in the individual competitions to follow. USA Gymnastics said Biles is yet to decide whether to withdraw from her four individual finals, which are scheduled to take place next week.

‘More to life than gymnastics’

This week’s events have once again highlighted the huge pressure sports starts find themselves under and Biles will now take stock before deciding her next move.

“There is more to life than just gymnastics,” she said. “It is very unfortunate that it has to happen at this stage, because I definitely want to just do a little bit better but again take it one day at a time, and we’re going to see how the rest goes. There comes a time when I have to do it for myself. Coming in today was like fighting those demons. I have to do what’s right for me and not jeopardise my health and well-being.”

Widespread support

Biles has received widespread support after saying she had to focus on her mental health. Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said:

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“Simone, you've made us so proud. Proud of who you are as a person, teammate and athlete. We applaud your decision to prioritise your mental wellness over all else, and offer you the full support and resources of our Team USA community as you navigate the journey ahead.”

US swimmer Katie Ledecky, who like Biles headed to Tokyo expected to claim a number of medals, said she sympathised with her team-mate.

Speaking shortly after she bounced back from failing to medal in the women’s 200m freestyle by winning her favoured 1500m title, Ledecky said: “I would never want to speak for Simone or say I know what she’s feeling because none of us do. But I understand it. We’re at the highest level, we have the most eyes on us of anyone in the world right now – I’m not just saying us as in Simone and me, I’m saying everyone at the Olympics.

“You can feel like a lot of people are watching you and that every move you make is being watched and judged and all those things. As much as we say we try to ignore it, I think some of that is just trying to keep that positive mindset and move forward.”

Turning the focus on mental health

Biles’ decision to withdraw and speak candidly about her mental health follows similar concerns expressed by tennis star Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open and then pulled out of Wimbledon. Both athletes have drawn praise for helping shine a light on mental health issues in sport.

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