Simone Biles secured the landing. The American gymnast won bronze in Tuesday’s balance beam final, a week after pulling herself out of several competitions to focus on her mental health.
Biles earned her seventh Olympic career medal — the most shared with Shannon Miller by an American in gymnastics — by drilling a slightly watered-down version of her usual routine in front of a crowd that included IOC President Thomas Bach.
Biles scored 14,000 with a double pike jump – no turns needed. That was good enough for bronze behind the Chinese duo of gold medalist Guan Chenchen (14,633) and Tang Xijing (14,233).
United States Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee finished fifth. Lee, 18, won three medals in Tokyo, including silver in the team final and bronze on uneven bars.
Biles arrived on the floor about 90 minutes before the match started, wearing a red, white and blue leotard decorated with nearly 5,000 crystals. It was barely noticeable when she was nervous. She warmed up like it was just another day at the gym her family owns in the northern suburbs of Houston. Twice she jumped on the beam to continue her routine and secured her double pike jump to applause from the stands and the buzz of dozens of cameras.
Biles arrived in Tokyo as the face of the US contingent in Japan and perhaps the Games themselves. But the brilliance she so easily conjured up during her run at the sport was undone after qualifying on July 25.
She jumped out of her vault during the team final’s first rotation on July 27, then stunningly removed herself from the competition as a matter of protection as she struggled to locate herself in the air. She later described the phenomenon as “the twisties” and then withdrew from the all-around, uneven bars, floor exercises and jump finals.
The decision raised awareness of the importance of mental health in sports in general and among Olympians in particular. Add it to the growing list of moves 24-year-old Biles has become a touchstone for during her rise to stardom.
She has continued to train for the past week and is being evaluated by team physician Dr. Marcia Faustin, while also serving as the head cheerleader for a US women’s team that has amassed some serious hardware in her absence.
Lee became the fifth American woman in a row to capture the all-around title, adding bronze on uneven bars. MyKayla Skinner, placed in the vault final after Biles scratched, rose to silver. On Monday, Jade Carey’s long journey to the Olympics ended with a win on floor exercise after Biles gave her a pep talk after a nightmarish jump performance where she tripped at the end of the runway, narrowly avoiding serious injury.
Her return to competition on beam marked a fitting end to her Olympic experience. She earned bronze at the event in Brazil five years ago, including reaching down to grab the 4-inch piece of wood after she slipped. The decision cost her gold, but secured her a fifth medal and the medal she is most proud of, in retrospect.
Although she has not officially announced her retirement, she has hinted that she may somehow want to stay until the 2024 Games in Paris to honor coaches Laurent and Cecile Landi, who are both French, before a long layoff . She’s headlined a post-Olympic tour through the fall, but recently emphasized that she plans to stay close to the sport.
If Tuesday evening was her official goodbye, she did so on her terms. Just as she has spent most of an eight-year elite career pushing the boundaries of gymnastics and seeing her achieve the kind of crossover success typical of sprinters like Usain Bolt and swimmers like Michael Phelps.