It was the withdrawal literally heard round the world when Simone Biles walked off of the floor on Tuesday after performing her first vault of the evening. Biles would return only to watch her fellow teammates go through their respective routines and Team USA fought tooth and nail to put up enough points to snatch gold from the Russian Olympic Committee. But with a low scoring vault from Biles and small mistakes from other members of the team, the US would remain firmly in silver medal scoring position which has been treated like a loss in the sports world.
Initially, the reason for Biles’s withdrawal was an undisclosed “medical issue,” the New York Times reports. But shortly after, Biles herself explained that mentally she just wasn’t in the right place to compete. “At the end of the day, I have to do what was right for me,” Biles told press in Tokyo. “It just sucks that it happened at the Olympic Games.” She has not made clear whether she plans to compete in any of the remaining individual competitions, although she is qualified to appear in all of them should she wish.
While the Core Four was expected to return to the States dripping in gold, the response to Biles’s withdrawal has overshadowed the achievements of Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, and Grace McCallum, who managed to keep Team USA on the podium despite losing their team leader. A silver medal is still something to celebrate. Simone Biles choosing her mental health over a gold medal is worth even more celebration.
Although Biles defies the laws of physics and gravity, she is still a young woman who suffered in silence for years under USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and the negligence of her sport’s governing body. She overcame all of this in full view of the public while training for an Olympics that no one was sure was going to happen. While it is unfortunate that she didn’t feel mentally strong enough to pull off her death-defying tricks safely, it is an enormous personal victory that she had the fortitude to make the tough call and put herself first. Simone Biles remains the greatest gymnast of all time.