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This article was published 27/7/2021 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
All eyes were on Simone Biles on Tuesday, waiting for the gymnastics great to come up with something that once again stuns the world.
Fans were stunned by the end of the women’s artistic gymnastics team final, but in a manner no one likes to see. The 24-year-old American withdrew from the event after one vault and her lowest ever score on the apparatus at the Olympics.
Biles told reporters in Japan that she had no idea where she was in the air after her vault. Feeling like her head wasn’t in the performance, she worried she could get hurt or spoil her teammates’ chances at a medal by continuing. She chose to put her mental health before her sport, following the lead of Japanese tennis player and Olympian Naomi Osaka, who recently took a couple months away from the game.
"It’s very unfortunate this has to happen at this stage … it just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head," Biles said.
The Americans entered the team final in second place behind the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee, the first time in 11 years the U.S. found itself anywhere but first after the qualifying round. Biles’ teammates, Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles, fought on in Biles’ absence — though the veteran was never far away, cheering the team on from the sidelines. But the short-handed group couldn’t do enough to best the gold-medal winning ROC, finishing with silver and bringing an end to the U.S.’s run at the top of the sport. The Americans entered Tokyo with five successive world titles and back-to-back Olympic gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Biles, who needs four podium finishes in Tokyo to become the most decorated male or female gymnast in history, has been open about the pressure she feels to perform.
"It wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it," she wrote in an Instagram post earlier in the Games after struggling during the preliminary round. "I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like the pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard."
She was lauded by other athletes, celebrities and fans on Tuesday for prioritizing her mental heath.
"All of these athletes dream of these moments their entire lives," Rio teammate Aly Raisman told NBC. "I’m hoping that Simone is OK … Simone, just like everyone else, is doing the best she can. Simone is there cheering her teammates, supporting them the best she can."
American figure skater Adam Rippon, who won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Games, said he can’t imagine the pressure Biles has been feeling.
"Sending her SO much love," he wrote in a tweet. "It’s easy to forget she’s still human. WE LOVE YOU."
Hoda Kotb, a host of NBC’s "Today" who is in Japan covering the Games, said Biles already won.
"She is a class act," Kotb wrote on Twitter. "Withdrew from team competition after her vault … stayed and cheered on her teammates … got them chalk for their hands … encouraged … hugged them. She already won."
A statement from U.S. Gymnastics said Biles’ withdrawal was due to a "medical issue" and she would be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions. She is scheduled to defend her Olympic title in the all-around final Thursday and has also qualified for all four individual event finals later in the Games.
- COVID-19 surges: Tokyo reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections Tuesday. The Japanese capital reported 2,848 new cases, exceeding an earlier record of 2,520 on Jan. 7. Experts had warned the more contagious Delta variant could cause a surge during the Olympics, with cases among younger, unvaccinated people rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty. About 25.5 per cent of Japanese people have been vaccinated.
- Bermuda’s Golden Girl: Triathlete Flora Duffy was already a local celebrity in her native Bermuda, but her star is soaring after winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal Tuesday.
Duffy is one of two Bermudian athletes participating in Tokyo 2020. With a population of 63,000, it is the smallest nation or territory to win Olympic gold.
"It’s bigger than me and that’s a really cool moment," Duffy, 33, said.
With files from the Associated Press
Laura Armstrong is a Star sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy