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With Simone Biles out, Russia wins women's gymnastics team gold in Tokyo

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TOKYO — Simone Biles roared toward the vault; the United States women’s gymnastics team in need of one of her signature knockout performances if they were going to stake an early lead on Russia in the team competition here Tuesday.

Instead, Biles bailed out of her planned attempt — a Yurchenko with 2.5 twists. She instead delivered the far easier Yurchenko 1.5. Even then, she took a massive bounce/stumble upon landing.

As judges tallied a very un-Simone like score of 13.766 — a full 1.2 below her qualifying mark — Biles walked off the mat and looked to be near tears.

She briefly left the arena floor with a USA Gymnastics trainer only to quickly return with her wrists wrapped for an apparent return to the uneven bars, the Americans' second rotation. She then unwrapped them and put on warm-ups.

Biles later said that she was dealing with a number of mental health issues, including an intense pressure to achieve perfection and fear of how she would be judged by the public at large.

When she couldn’t complete the Yurchenko 2.5, she realized she would only hurt the team by continuing to compete and that wasn’t fair to the others.

“I’m not in the right headspace,” Biles said. “I’m not going to lose a medal for this country and for these girls. They worked too hard ... it's not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes who can step up."

Just like that, the greatest gymnast of all time had been removed from the team competition after a single rotation.

Biles said that she would be working on her mental health the next few days and hoped to still be able to complete in the all-around competition on Thursday and in the four individual event finals in which she qualified. Her coach said she would get professional help first thing Wednesday morning here in Japan. 

"I'm going to focus on my well-being," Biles said. "I am more than just a gymnast."

Despite a courageous effort by the remaining Americans — Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum — a talented Russian squad seized the clear path to gold, besting the United States 169.528 to 166.096. Great Britain took bronze.

Simone Biles' exit is the story of the women's gymnastics team final, which was won by Russia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Simone Biles' exit is the story of the women's gymnastics team final, which was won by Russia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Biles stayed at the arena after her vault, and often jumped around to cheer on and encourage her teammates. 

The remaining Americans fought gamely to preserve the United States’ 11-year winning streak. Chiles, in particular, was asked to fill in for Biles on bar at the very last moment and still recorded a strong 14.166.

On the strength of a return to form by Chiles and a huge bar and beam routine by Lee, they trailed by just 0.800 into the final rotation — floor, which is Biles’ best.

Russia, however, was unfazed by the pressure, delivering rock-solid performances and securing the historic upset of the U.S. The Americans arrived as heavy favorites to win their third consecutive Olympic gold due to the overall strength of the team and, of course, the presence of Biles.

The U.S. had defeated Russia by a whopping 8.209 margin at the 2016 Olympics. At the 2019 World Championships, featuring much of the same lineups as Tuesday, the Americans won by an impressive 5.801 points.

They may have lost even with Biles — the Russians bested them in qualifying by 1.067 points on Sunday.

However, the Americans would have liked their chances if Simone was up to form.

Biles struggled (by her standards) in Sunday’s qualifying, repeatedly shaking her head, shrugging her shoulders and scrunching her face after less-than-perfect performances. She lacked the outward confidence that she’d carried in winning five all-around world championships.

Additionally, neither she nor any other American gymnast stopped to meet with the media after either podium training session or qualifying earlier this week, as past teams traditionally have.

During numerous pre-Olympic sit-down interviews, Biles often spoke of the pressure at trying to achieve perfection and push the sport to additional heights. When she repeatedly made small mistakes at the U.S. trials in late June, she broke into tears and said later she felt she had let down the fans.

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