Tokyo Olympics: Biles blunders surprise USA chief but superstar stays in hunt for six gold medals

By Sports Desk July 25, 2021

Simone Biles mixed brilliance with an unfamiliar touch of the erratic as she launched into Tokyo 2020 action, just about keeping alive the prospect of beating her Rio haul of four gold medals.

The American gymnastics great headed the all-around individual standings, just ahead of the impressive Brazilian Rebeca Andrade, with USA team-mate Sunisa Lee in third.

She remains in the hunt in six events, but it was far from a dominant Biles at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, and the United States team as a whole had an unusually mediocre day. The Russian Olympic Committee gymnasts finished above them in the team standings for the first time since 2010 at a major event.

Russia's score of 171.629 suggested they can post a major challenge in the final to the usually dominant United States (170.562), although Biles and her team-mates will want to prove themselves once again.

Since 2011, the USA have won team gold at all five World Championships and both Olympic Games, in London and Rio.

Biles' landings were not near as sure-footed as they have so typically been, and in her floor exercise she misjudged a tumbling pass to such an extent she stepped back all the way off the raised floor.

 

Tom Forster, high performance co-ordinator for the USA, was taken aback by Biles' mistakes.

He said: "That was a surprise. She's been incredibly consistent and I'm sure she feels bad, but I'm super proud of the way she trained.

"She's been a great leader for us. Sometimes, just like in other sports, great athletes drop the ball in the end zone or a quarterback throws an interception. It happens. Those steps are mental errors."

At one point it appeared Biles might miss out on the eight-woman final of the uneven bars, but she squeezed in, benefiting from the rule that allows only two athletes from each nation in the final. Biles finished 10th in qualifying, but four Russian competitors were ahead of her, with two of those unable to advance.

It means she remains in the hunt for titles in all six of her events, including the team competition, for which Forster will look to ensure Biles and her team-mates are thoroughly prepared.

"Staying in bounds would help. Simone took three big steps on her beam dismount. I've never seen her do that before," Forster said.

The challenge of the Russian team could lift the Americans, or it could point to a changing of the guard at the top of women's gymnastics.

Forster is only looking to the former, saying: "This might be a great awakening for us, and we'll take advantage of it."

While 24-year-old Biles battles to recover peak form in time for Tuesday's team final, Olympic veteran Oksana Chusovitina has reached the end of the road in her Games career.

Competing at her eighth Olympics, the 46-year-old took part in the vault but failed to qualify for the final.

Chusovitina, who has previously competed for the Soviet Union and Germany and made her Games debut in 1992, was back representing her native Uzbekistan in Tokyo and received an ovation from her rivals after producing two valiant vaults.

"It was really nice. I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time," she said of the recognition.

"I feel very proud and happy. I'm saying goodbye to sports. It's kind of mixed feelings. I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own."

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    An Olympic gold medal would be most athletes' prized possession, but Alexander Zverev's ownership has perhaps been a little more carefree – or it was until he found himself wondering if his brother had sold it on eBay.

    Zverev claimed arguably the biggest title of his career last year when claiming gold in Tokyo, adding that to his 2018 ATP Finals success – he went on to repeat that triumph at the year-end tournament in Turin.

    The German beat Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals at the Olympics before going on to defeat Karen Khachanov in straight sets to win the tournament.

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    After beating Australian's John Millman to reach the third round of the Australian Open, Zverev was asked where he keeps his gold medal, to which he replied: "That's actually a good question because my brother took it for a media appearance.

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    Zverev will presumably be a little more attentive to any silverware he claims in Melbourne this year, with the 24-year-old still chasing his first major.

    Seeded third this month, Zverev is certainly considered one of the favourites after an excellent 2021 in which he won six titles, more than anyone else on the ATP Tour.

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    "My tactic today was to hit the ball as slow as possible," he said. "That was my mindset going into the match, but hopefully I can hit it even harder next match and harder the next match after that.

    "I could really feel that you guys have been locked down for two years. I'm prepared that everybody will hate me after the match. It's quite accurate and that's my mindset.

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    Simone Biles is prouder of the mental health lessons she gave the world with her Tokyo Olympics withdrawal than any of the medals she has won.

    The United States star withdrew from four individual events for which she had qualified after pulling out of the women's team competition after just one rotation in Japan in late July.

    Biles cited a need to focus on her mental health as she chose not to contest the individual all-round, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise finals.

    But she returned to action emphatically as she won the bronze medal in the women's balance beam final at the Games in early August, an achievement that she stated felt far more significant than her exploits in Brazil, in which she collected four gold medals in 2016.

    Asked by MARCA if she was prouder of her achievements or the message sent by her withdrawal, the seven-time Olympic medallist said: "Most definitely the lesson that I gave the world in Tokyo, because nobody would have ever thought that would happen but everything that happened because of that has brought real good attention to mental health and the awareness that it brings.

    "It was kind of a whirlwind of emotions, like 'oh my God, what's happening because I've trained five years for this?' 

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    "I am really proud that people are taking it more seriously. But I wish I could have gone out there and done a little bit more. But, with the cards I was dealt I'm not mad at the results."

     

    Biles continued to reflect on mental health in sport as she pinpointed more athletes standing up to talk about a potentially sensitive topic as a positive for the future.

    "I think it cost so much because everybody thought of us as entertainment and they feel entitled to our work and [wanted us to] just go out there and put on a brave face and compete," she said.

    "But now you have these sports figures and heroes standing up for themselves and saying 'I'm not doing this competition, I don't get why it has an effect on you guys when I'm really the one that's being affected'. 

    "To have that topic come to the forefront is really great, but it's sad that it's been silenced and forgotten for so many years and not as cared about. But, luckily we're bringing more attention to that."

    Though she is proud of the impact of her experience in Tokyo, Biles admitted there are still some aspects of gymnastics that she is scared to perform.

    "Some of the skills which I twist a lot on and flip a lot on, I am really scared to do just because of everything that happened," Biles added. 

    "But, [my coaches] are really great every time I come into the gym if I want to play around. They make sure I'm doing all the proper steps, so they definitely make me feel a lot better."

    While citing her coaches' help as a driving factor for her recovery, Biles also believes she would not have made it through the troubles in Tokyo without the help of her USA team-mates.

    Despite a turbulent 2021, Biles remains happy as she continues on her indefinite break to rest and recover from a difficult year.

    "What's next in my career right now is I'm obviously on a break," she concluded. "So, we have to see. I'm not sure if I'll continue with the sport. Right now, I think it's just relaxing taking quality time with family and with friends and just being normal for once.

    "I think I'm happy with the way my life has turned out, especially starting gymnastics at six years old. 

    "All I wanted was a college scholarship and I've been to five World Championships and two Olympic Games. So, I think I've achieved more than my wildest dreams, so I can't complain."

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