In a shocking turn, Simone Biles—widely regarded as the best gymnast of all time—has pulled out of the Olympic gymnastics team finals almost as soon as they began, with mixed diagnoses coming from Team USA in the aftermath.
The news, coming early this morning in the American time zones, puts Team USA’s gold medal chances in jeopardy as the competition progresses, as Biles typically anchors the team (which has struggled early in the Tokyo 2020 Games).
The news is especially striking given that Biles, a Black Catholic, did not make it to her strongest events in the team showing, including the floor exercises.
The four-time gold medalist struggled with a vault at the beginning of the competition, failing to complete a twist and landing in a squat—silencing the crowd and eliciting gasps from NBC announcer Nastia Liukin—before grimacing and walking off the mat.
Though the NBC broadcast did not show it, Biles exited the floor thereafter with a team trainer before announcers let on that she would not compete in the uneven bars following her disastrous dismount.
Mere minutes later—as competitors from Japan, France, China, Great Britain, Russia, Belgium, and Italy completed their routines—it was revealed that Biles would not return to the team competition.
“We don’t want to speculate,” said Tim Daggett, one of the NBC commentators.
Team USA later clarified, via Daggett, first saying that the withdrawal was not injury-related, but rather a “mental issue”—echoing Biles' comments on Sunday that she was feeling “the weight of the world” amidst the team’s early struggles in Tokyo.
Shortly thereafter, the team confirmed a "medical issue" requiring further evaluation.
Biles herself would call the ordeal a mental health issue while speaking with NBC's Hota Kotb, noting she's she's physically fine.
Team USA had dominated the team event for years, and continued to make a strong showing even in the wake of the news concerning Biles. The ended the competition with a silver medal.
It is not yet clear whether Biles will be able to return for the rest of her events in the Tokyo Games.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).