A shockwave sliced through the Ariake Gymnastics Centre early in the women’s team competition at the Tokyo Olympics.
Simone Biles, who was favored to equal or top the five gymnastics medals she won at the 2016 Rio Games, had barely stayed upright while landing a vault she should have done with the confident flair that earned her the nickname GOAT — greatest of all time. She did 1½ twists of a planned 2½-twist vault, leaning to her right as she landed and taking a big step forward. Only her instincts spared her a dangerous fall. Fans hadn’t been allowed into the arena but the competitors, coaches, officials and media representatives who were there gasped in collective surprise and concern when she nearly toppled over.
Was she injured or just unusually jittery? The buzz grew after she consulted a U.S. team trainer and left the competition floor. She returned from the locker room wearing a warmup suit and sat out the rest of the team event because of what USA Gymnastics called a medical issue.
Biles’ acknowledgement later that she had withdrawn because of mental health problems ensured that 2021 will be remembered as the year it became OK for even the toughest athletes to say they weren’t OK mentally.
Her performance two days earlier in the qualifying phase of the competition had offered hints something wasn’t right. She wasn’t her usual stellar self that day, but there seemed little…