Simone Biles's Return to Olympic Competition Won Her Beam Bronze — and a Golden Moment
After returning to the Tokyo Olympics following her mental-health-driven withdrawal from most of the competitions she qualified for (the team final once she was done vaulting, the all-around final, and the three other event finals), Simone Biles came back in stride to the beam final on 3 Aug., finishing third. This seventh medal across two Games ties Shannon Miller's record for most Olympic medals in US women's artistic gymnastics. China's Guan Chenchen, who qualified through in the top spot and is capable of the highest beam difficulty in the world, received gold with a 14.633. Tang Xijing, also from China, earned silver with a score of 14.233.
NBC analyst and 2008 Olympian Bridget Sloan said during the live broadcast that Biles looked confident in her skills, controlled, and calm. The gymnasts don't have a 30-second "one touch" warmup in event finals, so that's important. All-around champion and teammate Suni Lee joined Biles for the beam final, having qualified through in third place and finishing in fifth after a solid routine with a major balance check amid her flight series of side aerial connected to two back layout step-outs.
Biles and Lee went back-to-back in the competition, and Biles, who won bronze on the event in the 2016 Rio Games, had a strong showing with just one visible minor error. She received a 14.000 for her performance, and she tweaked her beam dismount to a double pike. It is the only real twisting skill in her routine.
Biles said that she was experiencing a case of what gymnasts call the "twisties," a disorienting and dangerous mental block where you lose all mind-body connection that has long been second nature. Its onset started following the preliminary round, and it impacted her vault performance during the first rotation of the team final.
Biles's return is about more than just contending for — and claiming — a medal. It's about returning to a sport that has given her so much success and sorrow after a mental struggle that most of us can't even begin to understand. And the smile, the pure joy, on her face said it all.
Great athletes win medals. True champions are brave enough to admit hardship, then, in the face of adversity, show up to support their teammates and stay vulnerable when the whole world is watching. Biles came out and performed, and she is leaving Tokyo with team silver and beam bronze, as well as a new sense of self. "[T]he outpouring love & support I've received has made me realise I'm more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before," Biles wrote on Twitter one day after the team final.
Ahead, check out photos from Biles's warmup and beam performance on 3 Aug. It's unclear where she stands in her gymnastics career — she has said in the past that she isn't ruling out going for the Paris Games as an event specialist in three years — but, for now, she's ending her second Olympic Games on a positive note and inspiring people along the way. She added to a bigger conversation about mental health at a time when viewers may not be focussed on it and, instead, are fixated on a no-excuses performance despite risk. And we applaud her for the GOAT she is.