Simone Biles is back, will compete in balance beam exercise final

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TOKYO — Simone Biles is going to give it one last try at these Olympics.

USA Gymnastics announced that she will attempt to compete in Tuesday’s balance beam final, the last event of the women’s gymnastics meet.

There is no guarantee that she will actually compete. She may decide she is not capable at the last moment. Beam is not one of Biles’ strongest events and she is not considered a favorite to medal — she qualified seventh of eight competitors. Just getting out on the Olympic mat, though, appears to be enough for her.

Her decision does not impact any other American gymnast. Sunisa Lee is already in the final, having qualified third overall. No other U.S. team member would have qualified even if Biles dropped out.

Biles had previously withdrawn from every individual event at these Games — all-around, vault, floor, uneven bars. She won gold in the first three of those events at the 2016 Olympics, plus a bronze on balance beam.

Biles, 24, was forced to withdraw from the team competition last Tuesday after a single rotation. She was unable to perform her planned vault — falling a full twist short of completion — and landed awkwardly, delivering a devastatingly low score for her teammates.

Biles cited a lack of “air awareness” or what gymnasts call “the twisties” that make trying to complete extremely difficult moves extremely dangerous.

“I didn’t know where I was in the air,” Biles said.

Simone Biles will compete in the balance beam at the Olympics. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
Simone Biles will compete in the balance beam at the Olympics. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Houston native said she had been suffering from stress, anxiety and mental health issues upon arriving in Tokyo where the immense pressure to push for perfection became too much.

“These Olympic Games, I wanted it to be about myself,” Biles said last week, as her voice shook with emotion and tears welled up in her eyes. “And I came in and I felt I was still doing it for other people and it hurts my heart that doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people.

“... I was like, ‘I am not in the right headspace [to continue to compete on team],’” Biles said. “‘I am not going to lose a medal for this country and these girls because they’ve worked way too hard to have me go out there and lose a medal.’”

The United States, almost hopelessly behind Russia after the first rotation, was able to still win silver with Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum handling all of the remaining rotations. Biles received a silver with them.

An outpouring of both support and criticism followed.

Gymnasts detailed their struggles with focus, concentration and the dreaded twisties. Others praised Biles for acknowledging mental health issues, a once-taboo topic especially for elite athletes. Yet still others criticized her for thinking she somehow “quit” on her team.

Biles never returned though, seemingly proving that this wasn’t about quitting an event but a deeper struggle that wiped out an Olympics she trained years — including a year longer than expected — to compete in.

She was expected to be one of the biggest stars in Tokyo and was the centerpiece of NBC’s coverage in the United States. Instead she attempted just one doomed vault here and despite continued training and sessions with professional help was unable to get back on the mat.

She spent the rest of the time cheering on her teammates from the stands of the Ariake Gymnastics Centre. That included a number of gymnasts who were able to step into competition slots vacated by her withdrawals.

“She's handling better than I thought,” said teammate MyKayla Skinner, who won silver in vault after Biles dropped out and opened a spot in the finals. “Every day she has been laughing and giggling, super supportive. I'm sure when she gets home it’ll probably hit her more.

“But honestly she’s been the happiest person and I am so happy to see what all she’s been through that she's making the best of it.”

Now, at least, she’ll get a chance to perform. It may not be for a medal, but for Simone Biles, it hasn’t been about things a lot more important than medals ever since she got here.

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 10 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 10 slideshow embed

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