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Simone Biles’ exit from team gymnastics final sparks furious debate

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Published: 00:36 BST, 28 July 2021 | Updated: 10:26 BST, 28 July 2021

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Simone Biles stunned the world once again on Wednesday when she withdrew from the individual all-round gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health – just 24 hours after pulling out of the team event. 

The 24-year-old athlete dropped out of the team competition in Tokyo yesterday after flubbing her vault, her first event of the day. Her surprise exit cleared the way for Russia to claim the gold in a dramatic upset that saw Team USA come in second place for the first time in over a decade. 

On Wednesday it was announced the four-time gold medal winner would not compete in Thursday night’s individual all-round final. 

‘After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, in order to focus on her mental health,’ USA Gymnastics said in a statement.

Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler, and Hoda Kotb were among the celebrities who took to Twitter to show their support for Biles, who was praised for shining a spotlight on the importance of mental health.

Fellow athletes also spoke out after Biles’s most recent announcement to praise the gymnast for taking a stand. 

Surprising: Simone Biles, who was expected to lead the U.S. to gold in the team final, withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics finals on Tuesday after the first event 

Hard to handle: The 24-year-old gymnast pulled out of the competition ‘to focus on her mental health’ after an unexpected error on vault

Unexpected: Biles bailed out of her intended skill mid-way through and only completing one-and-a-half twists instead of two-and-a-half 

Struggle: Biles’ knees then buckled on the landing, propelling her towards the mat, although she narrowly avoided falling to the ground 

High profile support: Michelle Obama became one of the latest celebrities to add their voice in support of Simone Biles after she withdrew for mental health issues 

Understanding: Five-time Team GB Olympic medal gymnast Max Whitlock was among the athletes who shared his support after Biles’ withdrawal on Wednesday. Canadian Olympic gymnast Kyle Shewfelt also shared his well-wishes 

‘Someone said it best. @Simone_Biles already won. She is a class act. Withdrew from team [competition] after vault… stayed and cheered on her teammates… got them chalk for their hands.. encouraged.. hugged them. She already won. Congrats on the silver medal!’ tweeted Kotb, who is in Toyko covering the Olympic Games for NBC.

Handler commented: ‘@Simone_Biles drew a boundary for herself and her health on the world stage. This is real superhuman strength, setting an example for all of us.’ 

While DeGeneres wrote: ‘@Simone_Biles, you’re solid gold in my book.’

Biles even received words of support from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who insisted the gymnast is still the ‘Greatest of All Time.’ 

After her shocking withdrawals, Simone Biles’ future at the Tokyo Olympics has been thrown into serious doubt, with the gymnast admitting that she is going to ‘take things day by day’ before committing to competing. 

Currently, Biles is next scheduled to take part in the finals for the vault, uneven bars, floor exercise, and balance beam.

Should she choose to take part — and provided she gets the all-clear from USA Gymnastics — Biles upcoming events schedule is: 

  • SUNDAY, AUGUST 1: Vault final, uneven bars final
  • MONDAY, AUGUST 2: Floor exercise final 
  • TUESDAY, AUGUST 3: Balance beam final

Biles qualified in first place for the vault competition but she struggled in her other events, ending up in eighth and final spot for uneven bars, the sixth spot for balance beam, and the second spot on floor exercise. 

‘Gratitude and support are what @Simone_Biles deserves,’ Psaki tweeted from her personal account. ‘Still the GOAT and we are all just lucky to be able to see her in action. And congrats and tks to the tough as nails #TeamUSA @sunisalee_ , @ChilesJordan , @grace_mccallum2 for being role models and champs.’

But critics were less sympathetic to the pressure that Biles was under and claimed that she had ‘abandoned’ her teammates on the world stage when they were counting on her. 

‘A team captain just doesn’t simply abandon ship when it is navigating rough seas. What Simone Biles did is not what a team captain does in a middle of a competition. Disappointing!’ one person wrote. 

Someone else added: ‘Simone Biles seems to be very unconcerned or apologetic about choosing to abandon her team and her country’s hopes for a Gold medal in gymnastics.’

‘Medical issue? Sort of looked like Simone Biles gave up in anger after her vault landing wasn’t perfect and abandoned the team in a huff of disappointment,’ another claimed. ‘I’m sure the pressure was immense but she walked out on her team mid-event.’

Others admitted they were disappointed by Biles’ exit, but they didn’t blame her for what happened and wished her the best going forward. 

‘If I’m honest, my first reaction was disappointment,’ one fan tweeted. ‘But I have no idea what it must feel like, to carry the hopes and expectations of an entire country on your shoulders. I pray for your courage and strength @Simone_Biles . May you rediscover joy in the sport you love.’

Another shared: ‘Thoughts on @Simone_Biles withdrawing from the Olympics. I was disappointed, for me, that I didn’t get to see the GOAT compete. But my disappointment was NOT in her! 2 different mindsets. She has carried the USA & world gymnastics for a decade! How could we be disappointed in her?’  

Winners: Team USA’s rivals from Russia led the competition in the wake of Biles’ exit, and she was forced to watch on as they surged to victory over her teammates 

Despite the devastating upset, Biles and her teammates, Jordan Chiles- (left), Grace McCallum (center right), and Sunisa Lee (right), were all smiles as they received their silver medals 

Support system: Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler, and Hoda Kotb were among the celebrities who took to Twitter to show their support for Biles

A number of people have drawn comparisons to tennis star Naomi Osaka, 23, pulling out of the French Open earlier this year because of her own mental health struggles. 

When Biles spoke to reporters about her decision, she explained that she withdrew from the competition ‘to focus on [her] wellbeing.’

‘And you know, there’s more to life than just gymnastics,’ she added, shrugging. ‘It is very unfortunate that it has to happen at this stage because I definitely wanted this Olympics to go a little bit better but again, we’ll take it one day at a time and we’re going to see how the rest goes.’ 

It is currently unclear whether Biles will compete in the five individual event finals, which begin on Thursday with the all-around competition. 

The gymnast also insisted that her decision to pull out of the competition after just one of four events was made, in part, to help her team, saying that she ‘didn’t want to risk the team medal’ with her ‘screw up.’ 

‘I thought it was best that these girls took over the job which they absolutely did,’ she said, adding that the shock upset made them ‘stronger’ as a team. ‘They are Olympic silver medalists now and they should be really proud of themselves now for how well they did last minute.’ 

New: Biles’ coach said that the athlete had not been injured, explaining that she had been withdrawal from the final was the result of a ‘mental issue’

Heartbreak: Biles looked devastated as the news of her withdrawal was announced, and she was seen being comforted by one of her coaches, Cecile Landi

Comparisons: Biles’ withdrawal was compared to Naomi Osaka quitting the French Open earlier this year, citing her own mental health struggles. The tennis star crashed out of the Olympic competition in the third round in yet another dramatic upset (pictured) 

Fierce debate: Critics were less sympathetic to the pressure that Biles was under and claimed that she had ‘abandoned’ her teammates on the world stage

Biles claimed a silver medal alongside her teammates, who were on the verge of tears when she withdrew, but she insisted the second-place finish was their win.  

She gave full credit to the other three members of Team USA, Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, and Grace McCallum, saying: ‘This medal is all of them and the coaches and nothing to do with me.’

Biles admitted that she is ‘dealing with some things internally,’ but she seemed focused on returning to competition in time for the all-around final, having gone into the Olympics as the favorite to win the gold. 

‘I’m OK,’ Simone said. ‘Just dealing with some things internally which will get fixed out in the next couple of days.’ 

When asked by the BBC whether she is planning to take part in the upcoming all-around final in two days, she replied simply: ‘Yes.’ 

However, when speaking to the Today show, Biles confessed that her determination to take part in the event — where she would be defending her championship title — is not enough to cement her place in the lineup, saying: ‘We’re going to take it day by day, and we’re just going to see.’  

Dramatic: Shortly after her vault, Biles was seen leaving the floor with a Team USA coach and a member of the medical staff, sparking fears that she had sustained a serious injury 

Difficult: Video captured the moment that Simone shared the news of her withdrawal with her devastated teammates, who were left on the verge of tears by her shock announcement 

Support: The gymnast hugged each of her fellow Team USA athletes and reassured them that they were ‘going to be fine’, saying: ‘You’ve been training your whole entire lives for this’

She added: ‘Physically, I feel good, I’m in shape. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being head star isn’t an easy feat, so we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and we’ll see.’ 

While opening up about her determination to prioritize her mental health, Biles praised other athletes, like Osaka, who have spoken out about their own struggles, insisting that it has become a more important issue than ever.

She suggested that sports stars who are grappling with these kinds of issues are more likely to injure themselves during competition. 

‘I have to focus on my mental health,’ she said. ‘I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now…we have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.’

She admitted that her confidence has taken a serious knock as a result of her mental health issues, confessing: ‘I don’t trust myself as much anymore…maybe it’s getting older. There were a couple of days when everybody tweets you and you feel the weight of the world. 

‘We’re not just athletes, we’re people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to step back. ‘I didn’t want to go out and do something stupid and get hurt. I feel like a lot of athletes speaking up has really helped. It’s so big, it´s the Olympic Games, at the end of the day we don´t want to be carried out of there on a stretcher.

‘You have to be there 100 per cent or 120 per cent or you’re going to hurt yourself.’  

On their own: Bile’s withdrawal from the competition left Team USA meant Lee (left), McCallum (center), and Chiles (right) had to take part in every event 

Waiting game: Biles, who is the oldest member of the  team and the only returning Olympian on the squad, stood by to support her fellow athletes as they continued the competition 

Pressure: Chile had to step up and replace Biles in both the balance beam and uneven bars 

Replacement: Biles was replaced on the floor by Lee, who put on a stellar performance to close out Team USA’s competition, but sadly it wasn’t enough to clinch them the gold 

In a poignant twist, Simone’s sensational exit from the team final came just hours after Osaka, who is representing her home nation of Japan at the Tokyo Games, crashed out of the Olympic competition in the third round in yet another dramatic upset.   

Biles’ withdrawal from the competition followed her uncharacteristic error on vault that saw her almost fall backwards. 

  1. ROC (169.528)
  2. United States (166.096)
  3. Great Britain (164.096) 
  4. Italy (163.638)
  5. Japan (163.280)
  6. France (163.264)
  7. China (161.196)
  8. Belgium (159.695)

She made history earlier this year when she became the first-ever female gymnast to perform the incredibly risky and complicated Yurchenko double pike vault.   

Biles was supposed to execute the Yurchenko vault with two-and-a-half twists in the final, but she bailed out at the last second and only performed one-and-a-half twists, resulting in a much lower starting score.    

To add insult to injury, her knees then buckled on the landing, propelling her towards the mat, although she narrowly avoided falling to the ground. 

Her resulting score — 13.766 — is the lowest she has received in years. During qualifications, she received a score of 15.183. 

Speaking about the mistake in a post-event press conference, Biles confessed that she felt as though she had ‘robbed’ her teammates of a fighting chance to claim the gold.

‘It’s really unfortunate to have a score like that go up there for the team. I feel I robbed them,’ she said. ‘We could have been a little bit higher in the rankings. I didn’t do my job. They came out and they stepped up. They did what they needed to do.’ 

After completing the skill, she was seen going into a quick huddle with her coach, Cecile Landi, which appears to be the moment that she decided to withdraw from the competition. 

She left the stadium with her trainer and was closely followed by medical staff, sparking fears that she had sustained a serious injury. Moments later, it was announced that she had been pulled out of Team USA’s uneven bars lineup, and shortly after, it was revealed that she had been taken out of the competition altogether. 

Clues: Biles showed little sign of upset or pain as she cheered on her teammates, suggesting that she had not sustained a serious injury

Fumble: Chiles fell during her floor routine, effectively ending Team USA’s chances of winning gold after Russia’s athletes all executed clean routines 

Disappointed: Biles watched on in horror as her team’s hopes of winning gold were dashed in the final minutes of the competition 

When she returned, she put on her tracksuit over her leotard in a move that confirmed her exit from the competition.   

Video captured the moment that the gymnast shared the news with her three teammates, telling them that she was ‘sorry,’ but insisting that they were ‘going to do great’ because they had ‘been training for this their whole lives.’

News of Simone’s exit from the competition sent shockwaves around the arena and left commentators stunned, with Kotb, who is close friends with the gymnast, tearing up as she discussed the news with her Today show co-hosts.  

Biles’ former Olympic teammate Laurie Hernandez, who competed alongside her in Rio in 2016 but missed out on a spot at the trials for this year’s Games, also expressed support for the star gymnast, sending her well wishes for a speedy recovery. 

‘At the end of the day, mentally, physically, we just want to make sure that she’s OK,’ Hernandez said while helping to provide commentary on the competition.   

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, who competed with Biles and Hernandez in Rio, also weighed in on her former teammate’s shock withdrawal from the competition, telling Today: ‘I feel sick to my stomach; it’s horrible. I’m obviously praying that she’ll be able to compete in the all-around final.’ 

Good sports: Biles and her teammates were seen congratulating Russia’s gymnasts on their victory shortly after the final result was announced at the Ariake Gymnastics Center 

Shock result: Going into the Olympics, Team USA was the favorite to win gold in the team competition, having claimed the title both in 2012 and 2016

Onward and upward? The gymnasts will now move ahead to compete in the individual finals, but remains unclear whether Biles will take part in any of the five events she qualified for 

She added: ‘You know, she’s human, and I think sometimes people forget that. And Simone, just like everyone else, is doing the best that she can.’

Meanwhile, Olympic gymnast MyKayla Skinner voiced concerns for Biles’ shocking vault error and exit from the team event, saying: ‘My heart broke for her; I can’t imagine what she’s going through.’

To be continued: USAG said that Simone will be ‘assessed daily’ to determine whether she can compete in the individual event finals

Skinner, who competed in the Olympics as an individual and not a member of Team USA, had her own heartbreak this week when she failed to qualify for any individual event finals.  

Speaking about Biles’ error on vault, the 24-year-old added: ‘I don’t really know what happened…I’m not sure if she hurt something recently.’ 

Initially, only Biles and McCallum had been expected to take part in the all-around, meaning that they were the only two gymnasts who would have competed on all four events: vault, uneven bars, beam, and floor exercise. 

Instead, Chiles was forced to replace Biles on the uneven bars and the balance beam, while Lee stepped into her shoes on the floor. 

Aftermath: Speaking at a press conference after the team’s shocking second place finish, Biles said that she dropped out of the competition to ‘focus on her wellbeing’

Proud: Shortly after the team final came to a close, Biles took to Instagram to praise her teammates for ‘fighting through adversity’ and ‘stepping up when she couldn’t’

As well as the added pressure on Team USA’s other three athletes, the squad’s overall score also took a huge hit. Biles’ routines on all four events are typically among those with the highest potential points, particularly when it comes to the vault, beam, and floor exercise. 

Love: Biles thanked McCallum,  Lee, and Chiles for ‘having her back,’ that she was ‘inspired by their determination’ 

Even on the uneven bars, which is usually her worst event, she is leaps and bounds ahead of the majority of her competitors, a fact that she proved by qualifying for the individual event final. 

Message: The gymnast also posted a simple white heart on Twitter

Despite the devastating result of her personal performance in the final, Biles made heroic efforts to keep her spirits up, and she was seen joking and laughing with Chiles.

Following the third rotation, the U.S. was trailing Russia by just eight-tenths of a point, having put in a tremendous performance on the beam, where Biles is typically the highest-scoring athlete. 

However, Team USA’s hopes of finishing in first place suffered another dramatic blow when Chiles fell during her floor routine, resulting in a score of just 11.7, effectively ending the squad’s chances of winning.   

In an Instagram post shared shortly after the team final came to a close, Biles once again praised her teammates for their performance.

‘I’m SO proud of these girls right here,’ she wrote, while sharing an image of the four-woman squad proudly posing with their silver medals.

‘You girls are incredibly brave & talented! I’ll forever be inspired by your determination to not give up and to fight through adversity! They stepped up when I couldn’t. thanks for being there for me and having my back! forever love y’all.’  

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