American gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from Thursday’s individual all-around competition a day after pulling out of the team final in the middle of the competition. The decision, announced Wednesday, did not come as a surprise after the 24-year-old cited mental health issues for exiting the team competition, which the U.S. ultimately won the silver medal in. Leading up to Tokyo, the U.S. team had been dominant in the competition, winning the team gold at every World Championships and Olympics since 2010. Biles will be replaced in the all-around final by Jade Carey, who placed ninth in qualifying.
Biles was the clear favorite to win the gold in the individual all-around Thursday after winning the competition at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She was attempting to become the first female gymnast to repeat as all-around Olympic champion in more than 50 years. The four-time Olympic gold medalist’s dominance in the all-around had been such that she hadn’t lost an all-around competition since 2013 when she was just 16 years old. Biles’ Olympics are not yet over, however, as she also qualified for the finals in all four apparatuses, which will be held separately next week. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement Wednesday. “Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”
Biles hinted at some mental challenges going into the Games, particularly the pressure that came along with being her country’s and the sport’s standard-bearer. The mental strain, however, was visible in Biles’ early performances, particularly on the vault where, after launch, she got lost in the air, such that she was unable midflight to orient herself in relation to the ground. The disorientation prompted Biles, whose routines are notable for their athletic daring and risk, to perform a much simpler vault than she normally attempts, though she landed awkwardly, bounding forward. With the risk and daring of her routines, however, crept in a sense of danger that Biles said she mentally couldn’t shake and ultimately prompted her to withdraw to avoid the possibility of serious injury and to give her teammates a chance to still try to win the competition.