By Nancy Armour |
Simone Biles made a triumphant return.
Competing for the first time since withdrawing from the team competition a week earlier with a case of “the twisties,” Biles won the bronze medal in Tuesday night’s balance beam final, her seventh career Olympic medal, tying her with Shannon Miller for the most by a U.S. gymnast.
When she saw her score, a 14.0, Biles nodded. She was behind China’s Tang Xijing with five competitors still to go, and Biles knew there was no guarantee she’d stay on the podium.
China’s Guan Chenchen went last and won the gold with a winning score of 14.633, followed by Xijing who scored a 14.233 to take silver.
But that didn’t matter.
“It meant the world to be out there,” Biles said. “I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal. I was doing this for me, and whatever happens happens.”
Biles’ dropping out of the team final – where she won a silver medal – wasn’t simply a means of protecting her mental health. It was a necessity for her physical safety, as well. When she tried to do an Amanar in the team competition, she did only 1½ twists before dropping out of the air. She landed on her feet, but just barely.
Biles then withdrew from the all-around and the first three event finals, and it seemed as if cheering her teammates on would be the closest she’d get to the competition floor. But Biles continued training and said she had two sessions with a sports psychologist before being cleared by officials on Monday night to compete in the beam final.
“I don’t really know how I’m feeling,” she said Tuesday. “Right now I just feel like I have to go home and work on myself and be OK with what’s happened, and I feel like I kind of got to process that while I’ve been here.”
And even cheering for her teammates and watching them compete has been difficult for Biles.
“Every time I watch the guys and the girls out there, I want to puke,” she said. “Every time I watch them do a double-double because I cannot fathom how they’re doing it. I don’t understand.”
Biles arrived at the Ariake Gymnastics Center with coach Cecile Landi about 2½ hours before the start of Tuesday night’s balance beam final, and went through warmups. Biles had slight bobbles on some of her run-throughs and was solid on others.
She had changed the dismount on her routine, replacing a twisting somersault with a double pike, and did the new one twice. After doing it a second time, she and Landi walked over to the floor, where she did ankle exercises with a band and then sat with Suni Lee, her teammate and successor as the Olympic all-around champion.
After watching highlights of other Olympic events, she and Lee, their coaches and Team USA medical personnel left the floor 90 minutes before the beam final.
“Before the competition, I think we were both really nervous,” said Lee, who finished in fifth place. “But as soon as she got there, I feel like she just did it for herself and that was the most important thing. It really showed, because she did like the best beam routine ever.”
Biles is the reigning world champion on balance beam, and was the bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics. That performance – or, rather, the reaction to it – has always rankled her, so that she returned on this, of all events, was laden with symbolism.
Biles was the favorite to win gold on beam in Rio, but her left foot slipped on the landing of a front tuck – a somersault in a tucked position – and she had to put both hands on the beam to keep from falling off.
Her bronze medal was characterized by some as a disappointment and, even now, it’s rarely mentioned. She’s described as a four-time Olympic champion rather than a five-time Olympic medalist.
“This definitely feels sweeter than Rio’s bronze on beam because I did do a good beam routine,” she said.
Biles qualified sixth on beam – she actually finished seventh in qualifying but the two-per-country rule kept Lu Yufei out of the final – and would have been among the favorites for, if not gold, certainly a medal. Sanne Weaver, the reigning Olympic champion, didn’t qualify for the final, and Romania’s Larisa Iordache withdrew after warmups.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.