Gold for Sunisa Lee, ROC — Biles’ status — What’s up next
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, July 31, 2021
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So much has happened, I don’t even know where to start.
Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you probably know by now that Simone Biles withdrew from the team final after losing her aerial awareness during her amanar, and also withdrew from the all-around, citing mental health issues. Biles said on IG Stories that she’s struggling with the “twisties,” a (very dangerous) mental block wherein gymnasts lose themselves in the air. She has pulled out of the vault and bar finals, and at this point, I’d say it’s unlikely she’ll participate in the remaining event finals. Read more about the twisties on CNN.
It’s not all bad news, though. Without Biles, the remaining three members of Team USA rallied in the team final to take silver, and Sunisa Lee won the all-around gold with a killer performance.
The ROC, meanwhile, is having a great outing here, winning team gold despite two beam falls …
… and Angelina Melnikova earning bronze in the all-around.
We’ve also had some new countries on the podium this time around: Great Britain surprised for third in the team final, and Rebeca Andrade came in second in the all-around with a stunning performance, winning Brazil’s first-ever medal in women’s gymnastics and bringing us this moment:
WE DID IT.
So. That’s where we are. The remaining events will be held on Sunday (vault and bars finals), Monday (floor final), and Tuesday (beam). Biles will be replaced by MyKayla Skinner in the vault final and Melanie de Jesus dos Santos on bars, and if she withdraws from the remaining finals, it’ll be Ashikawa Urara on beam and Jennifer Gadirova on floor.
The Team Finalists
The ROC: The Russians were dominant in qualifications to place first there. Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova edged out Viktoria Listunova for the all-around final, where Urazova placed fourth. Similarly, they were all inches away from each other to qualify for bars, but Anastasia Iliankova and Melnikova made it through. Lilia Akhaimova and Melnikova will compete in the vault final, Urazova made the beam final, and Listunova and Melnikova both made the floor final.
USA: The U.S. had some uncharacteristic errors in qualification, but they made the team final and two athletes qualified for every individual final — Lee and Biles to the all-around, Biles to all four event finals, Lee to the bars and beam finals, and Jade Carey to the vault and floor finals. MyKayla Skinner and Carey both had great days but Carey was able to edge her out for the all-around, where she came in eighth with a beam fall. The U.S. skipped post-quals media, and they finished just over a point behind Russia, prompting some to bring up Tom Forster’s claim after trials that “A few tenths won’t matter.”
During the team final, Jordan Chiles covered for Biles on bars and beam (and acted as the team’s hype man) and Lee did floor. They all had clutch performances, though Chiles stumbled during her floor routine. Biles stayed on the floor throughout to support her teammates, and congratulated the Russians on their win. Their nickname is — wait for it — the Fighting Four.
Great Britain: The Brits started off a bit shaky in the team final — and they had a bit of a shaky performance in quals, with Alice Kinsella falling twice and the team generally missing Becky Downie’s bars excellence — but Kinsella hit four for four and everyone else had a hit day to take a surprise bronze. Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova both made the all-around final, but falls kept them in 10th and 13th, respectively. Jessica made the floor final.
Italy: Italy placed seventh as a team in qualifications after floor errors, but they ironed them out for team finals, where they all hit to place fourth. Alice D’Amato and Martina Maggio both made the all-around final, and Vanessa Ferrari upset Simone Biles for the top floor spot in quals with a great routine that earned a 14.166.
Japan: Japan placed fifth in the team final with errors. In quals, it was a nail biter to see if Murakami Mai would make it to the all-around final as they started in the first subdivision, but she scraped in despite a bars fall and placed fifth there, a record for Japan. She will also compete in the floor final.
France: France had a good day to place fourth in quals, but then errors in the final put them in sixth. Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos made the all-around final with Carolann Heduit, but errors including a wobbly beam kept Dos Santos out of medal contention.
China: China unfortunately struggled in the team final after a great qualification round — they counted a beam fall, a floor fall, and a crash on vault and placed seventh. Tang Xijing fell on beam in the all-around but still managed to place seventh, and Lu Yufei placed 18th with a bars fall.
It’s been a disappointing outing so far, but hopefully China’s Tuesday will go well, because they crushed it on beam in quals. There, everyone kept two-per-countrying each other until Guan Chenchen blew them out of the water, leading the field with a 14.933, and Tangin second. Lu and Fan Yilin also made the bars final.
Belgium: Team Belgium did well for fifth in quals but fell to eighth after counting falls in the final. Nina Derwael qualified for the bars final in first ahead of Lee and for the all-around, where she had a great day to place sixth, a record for Belgium.
The Rest of the Teams
Germany: Germany missed out on the team final by only 1.5 after some issues on bars and beam in quals. Elisabeth Seitz and Kim Bui both made the all-around final, where both did well to place ninth and 17th, respectively, and Seitz made the bars final.
Canada: This has been an unlucky Games for Canada, unfortunately, as Ava Stewart had a rough quals. The team finished 10th, and while Ellie Black and Brooklyn Moors both made the AA final, Black had to withdraw due to injury.
Shallon Olsen made it to the vault final, and Black qualified for beam, but it’s unclear if she’ll participate.
The Netherlands: It was a rough quals for the Dutch as well — they placed 11th and were also shut out of all the finals, including Sanne Wevers on beam. Lieke Wevers made it to the all-around after Black pulled out, and she finished 24th.
Spain: They placed 12th without some of their key players, but Roxana Popa made the all-around final despite a rough floor routine and finished 22nd with a fall.
Giulia Steingruber was knocked out of the vault final, but made the all-around along with fellow individuals Szofia Kovac and Yunseo Lee. Yeo Seojeong and Alexa Moreno made the vault final.
Oksana Chusovitina didn’t make the vault final, and got a standing ovation after quals, her last competition ever.
Andrade will compete in the vault and floor finals.
Larisa Iordache and Flavia Saraiva were both injured during qualifications, but both made the beam final and it’s unclear whether they will compete.
Danusia Francis tore her ACL before qualifications and only competed a few skills on bars before saluting.
Stop and watch Lee’s family and friends react to her gold:Gymnast Sunisa Lee, 18, is the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic team — and now, she’s won gold in the individual all-around competition. At home in Minnesota, her family and community were cheering her on.
Then get yourself a friend like Simone Biles:
Rebeca Andrade shared her silver medal with Flavia Saraiva in this adorable moment:
So much is being written about everything, but here are some of my highlights from the past week:
Simone Biles Rejects a Long Tradition of Stoicism in Sports (The New York Times)
Aly Raisman still wants answers (The New Yorker)
Time for the end of the teen gymnast (FiveThirtyEight)
The Medals Keep Piling Up. But at What Cost? (Sports Illustrated)
I’m working for Bleacher Report during the Olympics, so here’s a shameless plug!
Tweet of the week
Sorry, but I’m not done being excited for Suni:
Five at the IX: The Fighting Four
Team USA kindly spoke to the media after their silver-medal finish in the team final. This interview has been posted on YouTube thanks to USA Today, but I loved every word of it and wrote it out for my fellow visual learners. Edited for clarity and length.
Simone, what made you withdraw today?
SIMONE: It just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness. And I know that the girls would do an absolutely great job, and I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for my screwups because they’ve worked way too hard for that. So I just decided that those girls need to go in and do the rest of the competition.
How did the rest of you react when you realized Simone couldn’t continue?
JORDAN: It was definitely something that was unexpected. We were kind of emotional when we found out that she wasn’t going to continue and we all just had to put our minds in a great position because at the end of the day, we were just out there to show what we needed to show. And we went up and did what we did. And I’m just very proud that we were able to do that.
SUNISA: There was definitely a lot of emotions going through all of our heads, but I’m really proud that we were able to step up to the plate and do what we needed to do. It’s very hard to lose a teammate, especially at the Olympic Games. So I was really proud of all of us because we were going through so much, we were very stressed, put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we ended up coming back.
GRACE: I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of these girls. They’ve worked so, so hard for this and it really just showed how hard we’ve been training and that we can do it no matter what, and we fought till the end.
Simone, could you elaborate on what it is you’re going through?
SIMONE: No injury, thankfully, and that’s why I took a step back, because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured, so I thought it was best that these girls took over and did the rest of the job, which they absolutely did. They’re Olympic silver medalists now, and they should be really proud of themselves for how well they did last minute. It’s been really stressful, this Olympic Games. Just as a whole, not having an audience. There are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week, it’s been a long Olympic process, it’s been a long year. So, just a lot of different variables. And I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out, but we should be out here having fun and sometimes that’s not the case.
Simone, will you do the all-around and event finals?
SIMONE: We’re going to take it a day at a time. I know tomorrow that we have a half day, or at least a morning off. So it’ll be good mental rest. And so we’ll take it from there.
Simone, could you talk about the technical part of your vault, and what happened?
SIMONE: I was trying a two-and-a-half, and I ended up doing a one-and-a-half, just got a little bit lost in the air, which was really unfortunate, especially to have a score like that go up for the team. I feel like I robbed them of a couple of tenths and we could have been a little bit higher in the rankings. I was trying a two-and-a-half, and I ended up doing a one-and-a-half, which was definitely not my best work. So it’s just something we have to go into the gym and work on.
You guys were really thrust into positions you weren’t expected to be in tonight. Where did you see yourself being able to jump in? Simone, what reassured you that they would be OK?
SIMONE: Personally, I knew they would be OK without me. Just watching them train, they’re a couple of the strongest competitors I know. Their heads are always on straight and they have a lot of dedication and courage, so I knew they were going to be just fine. I wasn’t worried. I know they were a little bit worried going in and emotions were all over the place, but I think they just needed reassurance that they were going to be OK, and they were; they did it without me and they’re Olympic silver medalists.
SUNISA: It was very emotional but I feel like in that moment we all knew that we needed to come together as a team and kind of build up that leadership together because we didn’t have Simone in that moment. Obviously she came back out right after and we had a talk which was very helpful, because we probably wouldn’t have gotten through it without her. But yeah I’m really proud of all of us because we ended up doing what we needed to do.
GRACE: I’m really proud of everybody for really stepping up. It’s really hard to lose the best in the world and we definitely felt a little more stressed. But I’m really proud of how we did and I think we did amazing. We really fought.
JORDAN: Like everybody else said, we went out there, we did what we did. At the end of the day I was thinking I was doing two events, but being able to put my feet in huge shoes at the end of the day is definitely a huge thing because no matter what, we’re a team, and we did this, and we knew what we had to do.
SIMONE: And that’s why we have teammates, because if someone’s feeling down, you have to step up, and they did that, so kudos to them.
JORDAN: No, kudos to you.
How did it go down when you told people you had to withdraw?
SIMONE: I was like, “I think the girls need to do the rest of the competition without me,” and they were like, “I promise you you’re fine, we watched you warm up.” And I said, “No, I know I’m going to be fine, but I can’t risk a medal for the team, so I need to call it.” You usually don’t hear me say things like that, because I’ll usually persevere and push through things, but not to cost the team a medal. So they were like, OK, well if Simone says this than we need to take it really serious. So I had the correct people around me to do that.
Today has been really stressful. We had a workout this morning. It went OK, and then just that 5.5-hour wait or something, I was just like shaking, could barely nap, I just have never felt like this going into a competition before, and I tried to go out here and have fun and warm up in the back, feeling a little bit better, but once I came out here I was like, no, mental’s not there. So I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.
You keep saying it’s their Olympic silver medal, but you were a part of the team as well.
SIMONE: I didn’t do my job. They came out and they stepped up and they did what they needed to do and more, especially last minute. Suni didn’t even get to warm up her floor passes until the 30-second touch, so this medal is all of them and the coaches and it has nothing to do with me because they did it without me.
JORDAN: But at the end of the day, we did though [all three talk over each other]. This medal is definitely for her, because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here where we are right now. We wouldn’t be silver Olympic medalists, because of who she is as a person. Kudos to you, girl. This is all for you. You’re part of this team, and you deserve it too.
Sunisa, you equalled Nina Derwael’s score on bars. How do you see Sunday’s final going, with the rivalry?
SUNISA: She’s definitely one of my biggest competitors on bars, but at the end of the day it just depends on who does the bar routine better that day. I don’t think there’s much of a rivalry there.
SIMONE: It’s a friendly competition, I feel like.
SUNISA:It just depends on who does better that day because we do have like the same start value, so.
SIMONE: You have to support all your competitors so that you go in with a healthy mind and not trying to compete against each other, because then pinning people against each other just gets a little bit harder. So I think if she just focuses on herself and her bar routine she should be fine as well as Nina.
What do you think will be the outcome?
SIMONE: You guys are just going to have to wait and see the show! [laughs] We have a lot of good bar swingers in the lineup!
Do you have a message for any of the athletes who are struggling with mental health issues?
SIMONE: I say put mental health first, because if you don’t you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to, so it’s ok sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are, rather than just battle through it.
The documentary you’ve been doing has given you a chance to be more introspective. Did that give you the understanding and courage to do what you did today?
SIMONE: Yes and no, because the docuseries that I’m filming, I have an incredible team. I love everybody who I work with and the people around me, but it’s just like, at the end of the day, we’re putting content out, so I don’t want to put anything out there that people wouldn’t view as nice, so I didn’t want to go out here and end that series and that chapter on the note that we did, but it could be a turnaround for the better. We’re just going to have to see. Hopefully I’ll get out there and compete a couple more events and we’ll see.
Suni, you had the highest bar score of the night. Were you happy with your performance?
SUNISA: Going up to perform that bar routine was the most pressure I’ve ever felt in my life. [laughing] Simone was gone, so. And being last is always the hardest thing. So when I was going up to do my bar routine I just told myself to do what I normally do and just swing because if I put all that pressure on myself I probably would have fallen because I was in my head. But I just tried not to think about the fact that Simone wasn’t competing or anything else because that’s really all that bars is about, it’s very mental. So I’m really proud of myself.
JORDAN: Girl, tell me about it. [laughing]
What was it like learning that you would be performing without Simone?
SUNISA: It was really hard. Right after she left I called Jordan and Grace over and I was just like, “OK guys, we got this. Just do what we normally do. Nothing more, nothing less. We can go out there and show the world what we came here to do because —
JORDAN: We’re fighters. That’s what we are. We fought through this whole competition as a team and not as individuals and that’s what we needed. And like Suni was saying, at the end of the day, no matter what happened, we were just proud that we were able to do what we were doing with losing somebody that’s so great.
Can you talk about shifting the focus away from medaling?
SUNISA: Yeah I kind of told them that when we all were standing there together. I was like, don’t even focus on the scoreboard, because it’s not even important right now. We lost a teammate, so we just really needed to come together as a team and do what we were supposed to.
JORDAN: Yeah, it’s not really about the scoring, it’s not really about hte medals, like yes, I understand a lot of people probably were going to say something.
JORDAN: But at the end of the day, we are who we are as people and we came together and did our jobs when we needed to and that’s all that really matters.
Simone, you’ve talked about finding that mindfulness, and that tomorrow will be a break for you. What does finding that mindfulness look like in practice? Do you scroll through TikTok?
SIMONE: We’ll have the morning off so that’s a great start, because you can’t do it in practice because then you’re really focused in and tuned in on practice. So it starts from outside the gym, however we want to relax. So we’ll do that, hopefully get some fresh air, and we’ll just see.
JORDAN: TikToks definitely do help though. [laughing] I do have to say. They do help. Our TikToks are pretty good. I don’t know if y’all have seen the last ones we’ve been doing, but they’re pretty funny.
GRACE: Keeps your mind off things.