TOKYO (AP) – Simone Biles blocked the landing.
The American gymnastics superstar won bronze in the balance beam final on Tuesday, a week after she retired from multiple competitions to focus on her mental health.
Biles won her seventh Olympic medal – most associated with Shannon Miller by an American in gymnastics – by drilling a slightly watered down version of her usual routine in front of a crowd that included IOC President Thomas Bach.
Galle achieved a score of 14,000 with a double pike descent – no twisting required. That was enough for bronze behind the Chinese duo of gold medalists Guan Chenchen (14.633) and Tang Xijing (14.233).
Olympic champion Sunisa Lee from the USA came in fifth. Eighteen-year-old Lee won three medals in Tokyo, including silver in the team final and bronze on the uneven bars.
Biles arrived on the ground about 90 minutes before the start of the competition, wearing a red, white and blue jersey with nearly 5,000 crystals on it. When she was nervous, you hardly notice it. She warmed up like it was just another day at the gym her family owns in the northern Houston suburbs. She hopped on the beam twice to go through her routine, and to the applause from the stands and the hum of dozens of cameras, she set down her double pike.
Biles arrived in Tokyo as the face of the US contingent in Japan and perhaps the games themselves. But the brilliance she so easily evoked for so long during her run at the top of the sport was undone after qualifying on July 25th.
She jumped out of her vault during the first rotation of the team final on July 27th and then surprisingly removed herself from the competition for protection because she had difficulty positioning herself in the air. She later described the phenomenon as “the twisties” and then withdrew from the all-round, uneven bars, floor exercise and jumping finals.
She has spent the last week continuing to train and being advised by team doctor Dr. Marcia Faustin being investigated while at the same time serving as a cheerleader for a US women’s team that has been building some hardware in her absence.
Lee became the fifth straight American to win the all-round title, winning bronze on the uneven bars. MyKayla Skinner, who made it to the Vault Finals after being scraped by Biles, rose to silver. On Monday, Jade Carey’s long trip to the Olympics ended in a floor exercise victory after Biles gave her an encouraging speech after a nightmarish jump that stumbled at the end of the runway and narrowly avoided serious injuries.
Her return to competition on the beam was a fitting end to her Olympic experience. She won bronze at the event in Brazil five years ago, partly because she reached down to grab the 4-inch piece of wood after she slipped. The decision cost her gold, but it earned her a fifth medal and the one she is most proud of in retrospect.
Although she has not yet officially announced her resignation – she has hinted that she would like to stay in Paris until the 2024 Games to honor two Frenchmen Laurent and Cecile Landi – a long layoff awaits. She’s headlining a post-Olympic tour this fall, but recently stressed that she wants to stay close to the sport.
If Tuesday night was her official farewell, she did it on her terms. Just as she has done for most of her elite eight-year career, pushing the boundaries of gymnastics and getting the kind of crossover success usually reserved for sprinters like Usain Bolt and swimmers like Michael Phelps.
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