“I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal,” Biles said, adding, “To have one more opportunity to be at the Olympics meant the world to me.”TOKYO — Simone Biles didn’t want her Olympics, and perhaps her career, to end with her in the stands and not on the competition floor.
It couldn’t end that way, after all, considering everything she had sacrificed to make it to the Tokyo Games. She suffered through years of self-doubt as a sexual abuse survivor after realizing that Lawrence G. Nassar, the longtime U.S. national team doctor, had molested her. And she had endured an extra year of training on aching muscles and painful ankles and dealing with U.S.A. Gymnastics, the entity that failed to prevent her abuse.
As the face of her sport and of the U.S. team, Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, needed to challenge herself one more time. Not for everyone else or their expectations, she said later. For herself.
So on the final day of artistic gymnastics at the Games, after skipping all but one individual final because she was not mentally prepared, she appeared on the balance beam on Tuesday and performed well enough to win the bronze medal. Guan Chenchen of China won the gold, with a complicated routine performed with grace. Tang Xijing, also of China, won the silver.
“I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal,” Biles said. “I was just going out there doing this for me.”
She added, “To have one more opportunity to be at the Olympics meant the world to me.”Biles, who was expected to dominate here, finishes the Tokyo Games with two medals: a silver in the team final and her bronze on Tuesday. Her beam final ended her roller coaster of an Olympics, which will be remembered for her decision to withdraw from the team final, and for emphasizing the often overlooked importance of mental health in elite sports. Biles said she wouldn’t change anything about these Tokyo Games because it gave her a chance to talk about that issue.
The conversation began last week when Biles, a four-time Olympic champion, performed a watered-down vault during the team final because she had gotten lost in the air and couldn’t tell where the ground was in relation to her body. Later, she said she was struggling with a mental block that caused her to forget how to twist her body as she flew through the air. On Tuesday, she said she feels nauseated even watching other gymnasts twist and can’t comprehend how they do it.
While some people praised Biles for caring for herself, others criticized her for not powering through for her team, which ended up with a silver medal, not the gold it was expected to win. She said that after her vault her “wires just snapped.”
“Things were not connecting, and I don’t know what went wrong,” she said on Tuesday. “People say it’s like stress-related, but I, honestly, I could not tell you because I felt fine. I think I’m still trying to process this a little bit.”
One of her coaches, Cecile Landi, said on Tuesday that Biles’s situation was prompted by a combination of things, including nerves and the pressure Biles felt after working so hard for so many years and achieving so much success.
“It just wasn’t the time, you know, the ideal time for her to feel this way,” Landi said. “But I saw in her eyes a look that was beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Landi said she expected Biles to go through therapy when she returns home. Landi said she, too, would talk to a therapist because “it has been one hell of a week.”