Biles huddled with her trainer right after landing an uncharacteristically unsteady vault, and then left the competition floor with a team doctor. She returned minutes later to hugs from her teammates, after which she changed back into her jacket and sweatpants. A coach for Team USA also reportedly told NBC broadcasters that her withdrawal was “not injury-related,” but is about “a mental issue she is having.”
It’s been a tough road for the U.S. team leading up to this point, and Biles has been open about the immense pressures that come with being at the competition.
“It wasn't an easy day or my best but I got through it,” she wrote in an Instagram post after Monday’s preliminary round. “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.” And as a Black woman competing in elite sports, there's also the added pressure of being constantly scrutinised and being hyper-aware of those who are simply waiting to see you fail.
Team USA finished in second place behind the Russian Olympic Committee in the prelims, with many attributing this early defeat to “sloppy” mistakes on the team’s part. Still, Biles seemed to have her head firmly in the game as she prepared to face the team finals, as well as her own individual performance Thursday.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s event, she’d already received a tonne of support from fans, fellow gymnasts and of course her family, who have been supporting her from home. "We are all so proud of you already! You are authentically enough. You got this,” track Olympian Allyson Felix wrote in a comment on Biles’ post.
Five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin also joined in the chorus of supportive voices, sharing a touching post on her Instagram story in support of Biles. "I feel like at times, people forget that even the very best in the world are still human — with hearts, nerves, pain, stress, anxiety, pressure," she wrote.
Yet despite her unreal athletic capabilities and famously confident demeanour, Biles is still human, and very much subject to the same physical and emotional stresses that come with competing at such a high level. “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn't affect me,” she continued in her Monday post. “But damn sometimes it's hard.”
And with a track record like hers, the sense of pressure Biles feels is completely justified. Back in May, she made history as the first female athlete to perform the notoriously difficult Yurchenko double pike vault in a competition, when she nailed the move at the U.S. Classic.
In that competition, Biles was given a ridiculously low score purportedly to deter others from attempting the dangerous move. Still, it was rumoured that she would attempt the Yurchenko double at the Olympics, as she was spotted practising it before the games began. Why, you ask? Because she’s the GOAT, that’s why. And in her words, “Because I can do it.”
According to the statement from USA Gymnastics, Biles will be “assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.” There's no word yet on whether or not she’ll be able to compete this Thursday in the individual all-around finals. Ultimately, Team Russia walked away with the gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.