(NEXSTAR) – U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles surprised the world with a stunning withdrawal Tuesday from the Olympic women’s team competition, but it wasn’t due to a physical injury, Today.com reported.
“Physically, I feel good, I’m in shape,” the 24-year-old Biles told Hoda Kotb exclusively on “Today” after her withdrawal. “Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn’t an easy feat, so we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and we’ll see.”
Biles came to Tokyo as the star of the U.S. Olympic movement and perhaps the Games themselves. It all came to a stunning halt in the women’s gymnastics final on Tuesday night with an uncertain vault.
In a flash, the rest of the American star’s Games came into question. And the United States’ long run at the top of the sport came to an end.
The team representing the Russia Olympic Committee surged past the shorthanded U.S. to the top of the podium, posting a score of 169.258 to win the country’s first Olympic team gold in nearly 30 years.
The Americans, with Biles serving as head cheerleader while clad in a white sweatsuit and dealing with what USA Gymnastics called a “medical issue,” hung on for silver.
“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events second-guessing myself,” Biles said. “So, I thought it would be better if I took a step back and let these girls go out there and do their job.”
Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles drew the U.S. within eight-tenths of a point through three rotations. ROC, however, never wavered on floor. And they erupted when 21-year-old Angelina Melnikova’s score assured them of the top spot on the podium.
The U.S. entered the finals hoping to bounce back from a shaky performance in qualifying when the Americans came in second to the ROC. It marked the first time in 11 years the U.S. found itself looking up at someone else on the scoreboard.
The team declined to talk to the media afterward, though Biles did post on social media Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders and that the Olympics were “no joke.”
During the first rotation of the vault Tuesday, something happened. Biles attempted an Amanar vault during warmups only to roll out of it upon landing. The code for that vault posted when she saluted the judges, but in midair things went awry.
The vault requires a roundoff back handspring onto the table followed by 2 1/2 twists. Biles instead did just 1 1/2 twists with a big leap forward after landing. She sat down and talked to U.S. team doctor Marcia Faustin, then headed to the back while her teammates moved on to uneven bars without her.
When Biles returned several minutes later, she hugged her teammates and took off her bar grips. And just like that, the greatest of all-time’s night was over.
“It’s very uncharacteristic of me,” Biles said. “So it just sucks that it happens here at the Olympic Games than have it happen at any other time. But, you know, with the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised.”
Biles is scheduled to defend her Olympic title in the all-around final on Thursday. She also qualified for all four event finals later in the Games.
Biles was not definitive on “Today” when asked whether she would compete in Thursday’s individual all-around competition, where she is the defending champion.
“We’re gonna take it day by day, and we’re just gonna see,” she said.
Biles knows the demands of the sport intimately. At 24, she has been competing at an impressive level considering that most Olympic gymnasts age out of the sport by the time they reach 20.
When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill last year, the Olympics were postponed like so many other things. That meant Biles, who was already 23 at the time, would have to remain at the top of her game for another year.
“For a while, I saw a psychologist once every two weeks,” she told Health. “That helped me get in tune with myself so that I felt more comfortable and less anxious.”
Biles has been immersed in three different social movements at once.
Three years ago, she came forward as one of the hundreds of young women abused by Larry Nassar — a longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor — under the guise of medical treatment. As a prominent Black athlete, she’s found herself trying to find a way to use her platform to speak out against social injustice. As a female, she’s become increasingly focused on aligning herself with entities that make empowering other women a priority, one of the driving forces behind her decision to recently leave Nike for Athleta.
“It’s kind of scary sometimes having that power placed into my hands because I didn’t ask for it,” she said. “So I’m also getting used to that and I have to be careful about what I say because I know the impact that I can have.”
USA Gymnastics did not specify Tuesday the nature of Biles’ medical issue, saying in a statement she “will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.