TOKYO — Simone Biles, seven-time Olympic medalist, said goodbye to the Games in Tokyo on Wednesday. She packed up her sparkly red, white, and blue leotards and hair ribbons, and the white grips she wears on her hands to swing on the uneven bars. She also tucked away her Olympic silver and bronze medals, bittersweet memories of some of the most stressful and confusing weeks of her life.
Back home in Texas, her parents, Nellie and Ron Biles, can’t wait to see her. Due to coronavirus restrictions that prevented fans from entering the Games, it was the first time they were not in the stands to watch her compete. Her welcome committee will no doubt also include her boyfriend, Houston Texans Safety Jonathan Owens, and her siblings, who will be willing to unleash some much-needed hugs.
Obviously Biles will be taking a break from elite gymnastics for now, and the Tokyo Games gave a glimpse of what the sport would be like without her, the most dominant gymnast in history. Her absence offered the chance for success to gymnasts and teams who might not otherwise have had it.
In Tokyo, the Russians won the team gold for the first time since the Unified team, a group from the former Soviet republics, won it in 1992. The US team, with Biles completing only a relatively easy jump, came in second.
In the all-round competition, Sunisa Lee, an American, won, which surprised her as Biles had almost been a gold medalist given her talent and difficult routines. And Rebeca Andrade won Brazil’s first two Olympic medals in women’s gymnastics, including a gold in the vault.
Several other gymnasts became the first from their country to finish on the Olympic podium in an individual women’s event: Belgium’s Nina Derwael won her gold on the uneven bars; South Korean Yeo Seo-jeong won bronze in vault; Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari won silver in floor practice, where Japan’s Mai Murakami tied for the bronze.
“It won’t be the same if Simone leaves because she’s Simone freakin’ Biles, the best gymnast ever,” Lee said on Sunday. “I think in the next era of gymnastics we will all be more confident.”
However, Russia came to the Tokyo Games confidently from the start. In qualifiers, the gymnasts finished ahead of the US women for the first time since 2010, and Tom Forster, who is in charge of the women’s national team for USA Gymnastics, said this could be a wake-up call for his team.
The American team defeated the Russians at the last Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, by more than 8 points. In Tokyo, the Russians defeated the Americans by more than 3 points.
“I want to congratulate Russia for the great race they did today, for the transformation they have made since 2019,” said Forster after the qualifying session.
On Instagram on Wednesday, Biles posted a photo of a gigantic array of Olympic rings in Tokyo with the caption, “Not at all how I imagined or dreamed my second Olympics would go, but blessed to represent the US.” She added that she would cherish “this unique Olympic experience” and thanked everyone for their love and support.
“Leaving Tokyo with 2 more Olympic medals to add to my collection isn’t so shabby!” she wrote.
The Biles Olympics could have been a glorious end to a lifetime of grueling training, but it didn’t go as planned. She preferred to win at least four gold medals, but skipped almost all but the first and last gymnastics events because a mental block kept her mind and body out of sync, preventing her from remembering how she got into the air to rotate. When she announced she would be withdrawing from the competition to preserve her mental and physical well-being, many people embraced her as a brave mental health advocate, while others labeled her a quitter.
With so much for her to process after these whirlwind Games, Biles said on Tuesday after winning her bronze medal on the balance beam, she can’t say when, or if, she would return to the sport, or train for the Paris Games. in 2024.
“Paris is definitely not on my mind because I think there are so many things I need to work on for myself first,” she said.
Whether or not she comes back, Biles has raised the level of competition in the sport. Due to the complexity of her routines, other gymnasts are also pushing their limits so that they can achieve higher scores as well. For example, the Chinese Guan Chenchen performed a balance beam exercise that was the toughest in the world during the qualifying round. On Tuesday she won the gold and could return at 16 for the next Olympics, which are only three years away.
Some countries, such as Britain, thought their plan to rise in the international rankings would peak in 2024 – not Tokyo. The British women finished sixth in the team final at the 2019 World Championships, then skyrocketed to take the bronze medal last week. It was the country’s first Olympic medal in the women’s gymnastics team event in 93 years.
“Our biggest goal was to make it to Paris 2024, let alone come home with a medal,” said Jennifer Gadirova. “My dream was to make it to and experience the Olympics and even being here is an achievement in itself. It’s unbelievable and there are no words to describe it.”
Jennifer and her twin sister Jessica are only 16, which is the minimum age for Olympic gymnasts, and have a huge advantage. They will be just 19 at the 2024 Paris Olympics, while Biles would be 27.
When she came to the Tokyo Games, Biles hinted that she would compete in Paris, but only in the vault, to honor her French coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi. Cecile Landi said on Tuesday that she expects Biles to take a step back from the sport and the stress, and that Biles will take things “step by step”.
First on Biles’ agenda is mourning her aunt – her father’s sister – who passed away a few days ago. The next one will be preparing to perform in her Gold Over America Tour, or GOAT, which showcases only female gymnasts and, according to Biles, celebrates girl power.
“I think she needs a good break,” Landi said. “I’m happy for her that she can go to her family, her boyfriend, her dogs and just go home and enjoy it.”