(CNN) — The issue of athletes’ mental health came to the fore at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Tuesday as Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics final.
Following Biles’ withdrawal, the Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) went on to win gold, while Team USA took silver and Great Britain bronze
“The impossible is possible” is how gymnast Angelina Melnikova described the ROC’s victory, but it was Biles’ emotional well-being that dominated the final’s aftermath as she broke down in tears after the event.
“Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out,” she told reporters. “I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.”
“We have to protect our body and our mind,” Biles added. “It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”
Biles said those competing are “not just athletes, we’re people at the end of the day” and that the team is planning to have a “mental rest day” on Wednesday.
The ROC’s team of Vladislava Urazova, Viktoriia Listunova and Melnikova won with a score of 169.528, while Team USA took silver with 166.096 and Great Britain bronze — its first medal in the women’s team gymnastics since 1928 — with 164.096.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Biles withdrew from the final on Tuesday after leaving the arena to be attended to by the trainer.
While performing her Amanar vault during the first rotation of the team competition, she only managed one-and-a-half rotations and landed awkwardly — prompting gasps from onlookers in the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
“It’s been a long Olympic journey, it’s been a long year … after the performance that I did, I didn’t want to go into the other events, so I thought I would step back,” Biles later told reporters.
She added that, as she’s gotten older, she’s “a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics,” but is “proud” of her team for continuing without her and winning a medal.
Soon after Biles’ withdrawal, USA Gymnastics released a statement saying: “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions. Thinking of you, Simone!”
Biles returned to the arena before the second rotation in a tracksuit as Jordan Chiles took her place for the uneven bars.
She continued to support her teammates from the sidelines, chatting with them and cheering after each routine.
Chiles, a close friend of Biles, was appearing in her first Olympics and competed alongside Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum.
Victory for ROC secures a famous double after the men won gold in Monday’s team event, while also denying the USA — whose silver ensured an eighth consecutive podium finish — a third consecutive Olympic title.
USA had closed the gap on ROC to 0.8 ahead of the final rotation, but any chance of a comeback victory was effectively out of reach when Listunova scored 14.166 for her superb floor routine, growing the ROC’s lead to more than three points.
Melnikova then scored 13.966 to seal the win and spark emotional celebrations with her teammates.
“I knew that it was depending on me, and I was feeling overwhelming happiness and I knew I did it. I knew I had done my job,” Melnikova said of her final routine.
“We still can’t believe it’s happening. The impossible is possible now … We worked extremely hard, we were basically in a closed training camp for a year and a half, working for this moment.”
With the women’s all-around final on Thursday, Biles said she would “take it a day at a time.”
“Today has been really stressful,” she added. “We had a workout this morning. It went okay, and then just that five-and-a-half hour wait or something, I was just shaking, could barely nap.
“I’d just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out there and have fun … but once I came out here, I was like: no, the mental’s not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”
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