The Olympic trajectory that had Simone Biles on track for multiple gold medals has shifted from all but certain to, at best, hazy.
Biles withdrew from the all-around competition on Wednesday. The defending Olympic gold medalist qualified first for Thursday’s final, but she withdrew to focus on her mental health.
Biles had already withdrawn from the team final after the first event for the United States on Tuesday. Without her in the final three, the American women took silver, while Russia took gold. “This Olympic Games have been really stressful,” said Biles, who arrived in Tokyo as arguably the Games’ biggest star. “This has been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic journey. It’s been an exhausting year. Just a lot of different variables, and I think we’re a little too stressed out, but we should be out here having fun, which isn’t always the case.”
Biles, 24, is competing in her second Olympics after winning five medals in Rio in 2016. Continuing to train has been difficult, especially given that the pandemic has pushed the finish line back a year, and Biles has stated repeatedly that she is eager to be done with these Olympics. She was expected to win five more medals here, all of them gold, but that will not happen. USA Gymnastics said in a statement that Biles would be evaluated further to determine whether she would compete in the event finals next week.
Whether she will or not is certain to become the main focus of the Games, so here’s what we know so far.
Biles became the first woman since 1992 to qualify for all four event finals. She now has four days before she is eligible to compete again. Following the all-around competition on Thursday, the competition will take a two-day break before the event finals for vault and uneven bars on Sunday, floor exercise on Monday, and balance beam on Tuesday.
Biles appeared to be ready to try her Yurchenko double pike on vault when the competition began. Biles performed the vault for the first time at the U.S. Classic in May, requiring a roundoff onto the takeoff board, a back handspring onto the table, and a double somersault with her body in a piked position, and she did two more in podium training here.
The vault is so difficult that most men don’t attempt it, and no woman has ever attempted it. If she succeeds in international competition, it will be the fifth skill to bear her name in the Code of Points.
However, it is extremely dangerous. A gymnast in the air is more likely to land on her neck or head. In the team final, Biles balked at an Amanar – one of the more difficult vaults performed by the women, but one that Biles could practically do in her sleep. Rather than the required 212 rotations, Biles only did 112 and barely landed it.
Even if she competes in the vault final, the Yurchenko double pike appears to be a long shot.
“She’s going to be busy with the tour, I think she needs to take some time and try to figure out what she wants to do,” one of Biles’ coaches, Cecile Landi, said in April. “If she wants to come do a couple events, she knows she can still be the best in two, maybe three events. It all depends on where she is.” Biles had been torn between wanting these Games to be over and wanting to take a break from pandemic-extended training. She could call it an Olympic career at the age of 24.
However, she has also suggested that the 2024 Olympics, which are now only three years away, may be appealing as an event specialist. Laurent Landi, Cecile’s husband and one of her coaches, competed on the French national team, and Cecile Landi represented France at the 1996 Olympics.