Aug. 3, 2021 — Simone Biles made a celebrated return to the Tokyo Olympics, with a last stand on the balance beam that earned her a bronze medal, her record-tying seventh career medal.
Biles, who entered with just the seventh-highest qualifying score, finished third with a score of 14.000. China’s 16-year-old sensation Guan Chenchen (14.633) won gold, and teammate Tang Xijing Tag (14.233) took silver. They were the two highest qualifiers and thus the favorites to win the event.
“I was just happy to be able to perform regardless of the outcome,” Biles said. “I did it for me, and I was happy to be able to compete one more time. … Training for 5 years and coming here and kind of being triggered and not being able to do anything wasn’t fun.”
Biles has been struggling with the “twisties” since the team final a week ago, pulling out of that competition after she stumbled on one of her routine vaults. She cited her inability to perform due to mental stress, which prompted a show of support for the gymnast all across social media.
She didn’t finish the team competition, and she pulled out of the all-around, vault, uneven bars, and floor finals she had qualified for. She was the defending gold medalist on all but bars.
To be able to qualify for the balance beam competition, she had two sessions with a sports psychologist.
“That really helped me stay level-headed and be OK with missing the other finals,” Biles said. “Watching them, being the girls’ biggest cheerleader, wasn’t where I wanted to be coming into this Olympics, especially after qualifying for five [finals]. But I physically knew I literally couldn’t do it.”
Biles was also medically evaluated each day, and she had to answer questions from a doctor from the International Gymnastics Federation on Monday night to be cleared to compete.
Biles said that she has been trying to work through the twisties, which is how gymnasts describe the sudden disconnect between their air awareness and the muscle memory their bodies have built up over time. They cannot tell where they are in the air and how, or if, they will land.
It’s dangerous for any gymnast, but for Biles — whose gymnastics are the most difficult of anyone in the world — it carries significant risk of injury.
Because she could not perform any twists, she replaced her normal dismount with a double pike.
“I’ve been training beam every day. We just last-minute decided to switch the dismount, which I probably have not done since I was like 12 years old,” Biles said. “On the beam, that work is easy. I’ve always been able to do, but it’s just coming off we didn’t know what we were going to do or compete in the final.”
Upon cleanly landing her dismount, Biles sported a smile and acknowledged the cheers form teammates, opponents, officials, and everyone else gathered at the competition.
“The only reason why I could do beam was because there was no twisting,” she said, “so thank God for that.”