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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Explained: What Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics means

Considered Gymnastics' GOAT, Simone Biles is expected to roll out a formidable legacy, even without the consecutive titles.

Written by Shivani Naik , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
July 28, 2021 2:00:36 pm
Tokyo Olympics: Simone Biles of the United States during the Women's Team Final at Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo, Japan, July 27, 2021. (Reuters Photo: Mike Blake)

Simone Biles, the 25-year-old defending champion of the individual all-around gymnastics title, has decided to forego the chance to go for a second straight Olympic win, prioritising her mental well-being over medal success.

In a statement released before the individual finals on Thursday, where she topped Qualification numbers, USA Gymnastics stated that Biles was withdrawing after further medical evaluation, after her name was scratched from the team all-around event.

On Tuesday, Biles cheered the USA team from ring-side as they stepped up to claim silver, behind Russia, in her absence. While Americans were divided on how this ceding of space to Russians could be viewed, many big names came out in complete support of the champion gymnast, not following the norm of going through with her routines even while her mind didn’t want her on for the sake of a medal.

“We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many,” the USAG statement concluded.

Simone Biles, of the United States, waits to perform on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women’s final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo: Gregory Bull)

What this means to Simone Biles’s showing at Tokyo Olympics

The American was chasing a record of back-to-back all around titles that goes right back to 1968. Czech Vera Caslavska was 26 years, 171 days old when she picked her second title at the Mexico Games, four years after Tokyo 1964. Prior to that, Soviet Larisa Latynina had won in 1956 and 1960.

No female gymnast has won successive all around titles ever since. Nadia Comaneci had the solitary one in 1976, and Carly Patterson (2004), Nastia Liukin (2008), Gabrielle Douglas (2012) before Biles have each had one, over an Olympic cycle.

Sunisa Lee will now take on the mantle to lead the American charge against determined Russian and British gymnasts.

Tough title to nail twice

The reason why all-around champions don’t exactly repeat at the Games is the enormous strain winning can put over contenders. Acing four diverse apparatus — floor, vault, uneven bars and balance beam — for a consolidated score can take its toll, and it isn’t uncommon for younger gymnasts, with fresh limbs, to win the national all around title.

Biles, on the sheer force of her varied range of skills, has managed to maintain very high scores across apparatus rotations. However, it is considered an immensely difficult task to go through the rigour, especially when some of her unique and transcendental skills have been under-marked by judges across the globe. She chose the Cheng and Amanar, easier vaults for her, in Qualification.

On Tuesday, when she wondered if it was age or nervousness that had made her uncertain, it was clear that the risk was far too high to take, to hope to nail all the difficult elements over the two weeks. With the mental demons she’s been fighting before and after landing in Tokyo, the individual all-around seemed a bridge too far. It helped that the environment around sport had changed, and Biles could put her foot down and not “persevere and push through things” when she wasn’t ready.

Gold medalists of the Russian Olympic Committee celebrate on the podium, with silver medalists of the United States, including Simone Biles. (Reuters Photo: Mike Blake)

Not the last you see of Simone Biles

Considered Gymnastics’ GOAT, Biles is expected to roll out a formidable legacy, even without the consecutive titles. While she will be monitored to check if she can continue next week, Biles has left the door open to participate in the Apparatus finals of Week 2. She has qualified to all four of the event finals — August 1 could see her on the vault, giving the difficult routine Yurchenko Double Pike a go, as well as uneven bars. The floor exercise on which Biles boasts some of her eponymous moves while she flies in the air will be on August 2, followed by the Balance beam.

However, she has shown the courage to choose her own feelings over some mindless pursuit of further greatness. Also, the wisdom to not risk her limb and “be stretchered out rather than walk out” — while trying her high difficulties in a state of flux.

In a cryptic remark, Biles had noted: “This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself. But I was still doing it for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

The world will wait in anticipation for Biles to take the floor, for she has shown enough respect for her skill set, by not committing to compete when she’s not feeling up to it.

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