TOKYO — The U.S. women’s gymnastics team has taken silver in the women’s team final, behind the team from Russia, after U.S. star Simone Biles suddenly pulled out of competition after the first rotation to focus on her mental health.
This marks the first time in a decade that the U.S. women’s team has not come out on top in major international competition. The U.S. has won every Olympics and World Championships event since 2011.
After a difficult first vault, Biles said she pulled her coaches aside and said she wanted to withdraw.
“I can’t risk a medal for the team, so I need to call it. And you usually don’t hear me say things like that because I usually persevere and push through things,” she said, and added that her coaches and team doctor took her words seriously.
“Today has been really stressful,” she said. The team worked out in the morning, and in the five and a half hours before competition, she said she started shaking. “I’ve just never felt like this going into a competition before. I tried to go out here and have fun … but once I came out here, I was like, ‘no, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.‘”
She made clear that she was not physically injured.
Biles’ departure from competition was a devastating blow for her three teammates, who are all first-time Olympians. She was expected to compete on all four apparatuses, and teammates stepped in for her on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
“There was definitely a lot of emotions going through all of our heads, but I’m really proud that we were able to step up to the plate and do what we needed to do,” said Sunisa Lee, who stepped in for Biles on the floor exercise. “It’s very hard to lose a teammate, especially at the Olympic Games, so I was really proud of all of us.”
The final score for the Russia Olympic Committee was 169.528, winning gold, and the U.S. scored 166.096 for silver. The U.S. narrowed the Russians’ lead during the balance beam but was unable to catch up after a difficult rotation on the floor exercise. Great Britain won the bronze.
After pulling out, Biles remained in the arena wearing white warmup gear, rather than the team leotard, and hugged her teammates. She could be seen jumping to celebrate their strong performances and was not limping when she walked between apparatuses.
On her only vault, she scored 13.766. In Rio, she scored 15.933 on the same apparatus.
Biles was attempting to pull off a vault with two and a half rotations. But she was not able to fully rotate through the turns of that move, ending with one and a half turns and and taking a large step on the landing.
In the three other events she was expected to compete in, Jordan Chiles stepped in on the uneven bars and balance beam and Sunisa Lee competed on the floor exercise.
On the uneven bars, Chiles pulled out a strong performance, sticking the landing and scoring 14.166. Lee, a specialist on the uneven bars, secured an exceptional score — 15.400 — providing the team with much-needed good news.
In the third rotation, on the balance beam, Chiles also put a strong score on the board when she stepped in for Biles again. Solid scores from Grace McCallum and Lee helped to narrow Russia’s lead.
But on the floor exercise, a heartbreaking fall from Chiles after a tumbling sequence resulted in a penalty and a score of 11.700. The combined scores from Lee (13.666) and McCallum (13.500) weren’t enough to catch the team from Russia.
The other members of the team heaped praise on Biles in their comments after the event. “If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here right now. We wouldn’t be silver Olympic medalists. Because of who she is as a person,” Chiles said.
Team USA said it supported Biles’ decision.
“Simone, you’ve made us so proud. Proud of who you are as a person, teammate and athlete,” Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement. “We applaud your decision to prioritize 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.”
In the qualifier two days ago, the team from Russia was also in the lead — which was viewed as very surprising given the longtime dominance of the U.S. women.
The team had several stumbles in the qualifier, including multiple penalties from Biles. She still posted the top score of that day.
Biles said they are still determining whether she will compete in the individual events or the all-around individual final, which she won at the Olympics five years ago.
Biles qualified for all five individual finals in Tokyo. The women’s all-around competition is slated for Thursday, and the vault and uneven bars kick off the individual competitions on Sunday.
Biles was facing huge expectations for her performance in Tokyo. “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke!” she said on Instagram ahead of the team final.
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