Bronze for Biles — The Olympics are over — Thoughts from TOGETHXR’s Jessica Robertson
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, August 7, 2021
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Like every birthday you counted down for as a kid, the Olympics came and went. And now I don’t know what to do with myself. That is, until worlds, which are in like two months (HOW).
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Event finals happened. The big news there is that Simone Biles made a comeback for the beam final, hitting an incredible routine with a double pike dismount — her first since she was 12 — to come in third:
She’ll walk away from the Tokyo Games with silver and bronze medals, like a boss. Here’s her post-comp press conference, and here’s her post-comp celebratory dance:
But Biles is not the most successful women’s artistic gymnast at these Games — that would be Sunisa Lee, who will walk away with a full set of medals. After winning team silver and the all-around gold, she missed her connections in the bars final and still took third, then had a big balance check on beam and placed fifth:
How, indeed. Next stop? Auburn.
Our next most successful athlete here would be Angelina Melnikova, who killed it in the floor final to tie for third, and also earned team gold and an all-around bronze. And we would be remiss if we failed to include Rebeca Andrade, who, after earning Brazil’s first-ever medal, a silver, in the all-around final, came back and did it again in the vault final, winning gold with two beautiful vaults.
We were not graced with a post-competition gala this time around, which is fine by me, as I think they are at best nonsense and at worst bad for the sport. Instead, athletes are already heading home, bringing us Today Show moments and lovely homecoming scenes to cry at:
Here’s what happened in event finals:
Vault — MyKayla Skinner had some whiplash, filling in for Biles to compete in this final just days after her retirement, but she killed it with her cheng and amanar, good for silver:
Yeo Seo-jeong’s work was beautiful here as well and she came in third:
Alexa Moreno had a great day but finished just off the podium. Meanwhile, Jade Carey missed her steps on her run and unfortunately came in eighth.
Bars — Nina Derwael fulfilled her destiny with a clean, hit routine to win gold. But otherwise, this final was kind of a shitshow, with a lot of screwups and missed connections from favorites Melnikova, Fan Yilin, and Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, so Lee was in great company. Anastasia Ilyankova took the silver medal, which is awesome for her as that’s why she was there.
Floor — Jade Carey brushed herself off after her vault issue and won this final over first-place qualifier Vanessa Ferrari. Mai Murakami and Melnikova shared the bronze medal in a lovely show of sharing and fairness — plus, it was Japan’s first medal since 1964. Andrade came close to the podium but a step out of bounds kept her off, the Gadirova twins did well for sixth and seventh, and Viktoria Listunova sadly had errors that left her in eighth.
Beam — Finally, China. China generally had a disappointing Olympics up until this point, but here, at the very last event of the Olympics, they showed up to take the gold and silver. Guan Chenchen was excellent though not as dominant as she was in qualifications, and even better was her family’s reaction:
… and hers:
Tang Xijing hit a great set as well. Otherwise, it was very strange, but nobody fell? Ellie Black was excellent but unfortunately was left just off the podium, Flavia Saraiva grabbed the beam, Vladislava Urazova missed her acrobatic series, and, sadly, Larisa Iordache was forced to withdraw just before the competition due to her ankle injury:
These event finals were not without controversy, renewing the call for athletes to be allowed to do one-touch warmups. The arena was cold, especially without spectators, and many have speculated that this could have led to some of the falls we saw on bars. Laurie Hernandez called it a “safety hazard” and Lee called it “dangerous and so dumb.” McKayla Maroney also had some things to say about competing in an event final with cold legs and several broken bones.
How Simone Biles Came Back to Win the Bronze of Her Life (Sports Illustrated)
Under an Unexpected Spotlight, Suni Lee Shines (Sports Illustrated)
Surrounded by inspiration: How MURAKAMI Mai’s historic medal was born (The Olympic Channel)
Melnikova: I want to keep competing for a long time (Gymnovosti)
Gymnasts Say They Need Apparatus Warmups Back. That Should Be Enough (FiveThirtyEight)
The Gymnast Who Won’t Let Her Daughters Do Gymnastics (The Atlantic)
Tweets of the week
Five at the IX: Jessica Robertson
Jessica Robertson is the chief content officer at TOGETHXR, a media company founded in March by four of the world’s top pro athletes: Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird. Here, she talked a bit about the Olympics, the visibility of women’s sports, and what TOGETHXR is doing to increase representation. Edited for clarity and length.
Tell me about TOGETHXR.
The company itself, the idea behind TOGETHXR, really starts with Alex [Morgan] years ago. I think she was evaluating where she was in her career and thinking about her own personal legacy, and what it was that she could build to have an impact or leave behind for the next generation of women who are coming up behind her. She’s certainly still in the middle of her career, but is always thinking about what she can do outside the sport.
So she wanted to build sort of a first-of-its-kind brand for the next generation of women. Our co-founders recognized that when they were growing up there wasn’t really a brand that saw them, or spoke to them, or told diverse, representative stories of other women athletes or women in general who were moving culture forward. And I think they got tired of waiting for other media companies to decide to cover women’s sports. So Alex wanted to build it.
I definitely think having a daughter makes this a little bit more personal for her. She’s thinking of Charlie, of course, and the world that Charlie is going to grow up in. But she didn’t want to do it by herself. She really wanted to be a part of a powerful collective, a very intentionally inclusive, intersectional, diverse collective of women who knew how to tell these stories, who had their own stories to tell, and who could also inspire the next generation.
That’s where Sue, Chloe, and Simone come in. For TOGETHXR, it’s really important for us to center women athletes, but we embrace them as multi-hyphenates. I think coming out of the Olympics, one of the biggest headlines for me is that athletes are human. For us, women athletes are multi-hyphenates, which means we’re embracing all facets of their person, who they are in and outside of their sport. And to that end, sport is just a prism for us to tell culturally relevant stories. So, while we’re born out of sport, we’re certainly empowered and fueled by culture, and will also be centering other women who are moving culture forward, not just athletes.
But right now, we are hyper-focused on women’s sports. Because you’ve seen the stats — if you only have four percent coverage and visibility of women’s sports, then it’s really hard to grow fandom and investment, literally to put bodies in seats. And if you’re not putting bodies in seats, you’re not drawing eyeballs to broadcasts, and then brands aren’t going to invest in the space because they think it’s a risk. And if they aren’t investing, then media companies aren’t going to tell stories, because oftentimes what we cover is based on opportunities to monetize against it. So it’s this vicious cycle that happens in women’s sports that TOGETHXR is very intentionally looking to disrupt.
Why is TOGETHXR’s content mostly in video form?
Video is really important for us because we’re talking about visibility, and you actually get to see these women. Literally see them. And there’s power in visual representation. I love the written word. But for us, we wanted to lean into video so you could actually see these women whom so often you don’t get to see. And it’s also the way consumption works now — our audience, they’re looking at videos consistently. I think they want that visual representation, I think they engage with that. So it’s largely mission-based, but it’s also just strategic from a content consumption point of view.
It seems like after every Olympics, we realize that women’s sports is bankable but then nothing changes. Will this Olympics be any different?
I think every four years we see the swell of investment and excitement around women athletes, not just around the Olympics, but around the world cup, too. And by and large that’s because of the amount of viewership, or people in seats, or the success of women on these huge global stages. If you’d asked me this in 1996, I would have said yes, absolutely, it will sustain itself. But I think we’ve seen at least in the last 25 years, it’s not sustainable day-in, day-out, year after year.
I’m hopeful that these Olympics are different because of a few things. One: We’re seeing a swell of investment in women’s sports outside of the Olympic year already. Two: I think the outrage is being televised a little bit more; the inequities are really hard to ignore. Three: We’re coming up with a generation that’s not going to settle for less, that’s going to demand their worth and show up and prove their talent and demand what they deserve.
I think when you have all of those factors in and around an Olympic year, we’re actually at the tip of the spear for me. I think there’s only more investment coming after this. I love what the Olympics do in providing a significant platform for these women that otherwise you probably wouldn’t see, especially in sports that you aren’t necessarily tuning in to consistently. But I’m hopeful that this Olympic year is just the tip of the spear for more investment to come.
What are you most excited to see at these Olympics?
You are always going to get great stories out of the Olympics. But I love that this Olympics we’ve learned and gotten to know big personalities, too. Not just stories of triumph and overcoming obstacles, although I love those. I’m obsessed with Ilona Maher of the rugby team, who had taken to TikTok and built this big following out of her own personality, which is quick witted, and funny and entertaining. I love Erica Sullivan, who to me, is just so authentic and so true to herself on this massive global stage. Her being visible not just as a woman athlete but as a queer woman, to me it’s just empowering to see.
The more people show up as all parts of themselves, it’s powerful. And these women are interesting and dynamic and funny, and yet they have incredible stories. But they’re also great personalities. Outside of the amazing stories — Suni’s my favorite — I loved getting to know these personalities. Otherwise, I don’t know that I would have had a lot of exposure to them.