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Biles bows out of Olympic final with ‘weight of world’ on shoulders


I

n a Games of shocks, this one topped them all.

Not for the result; the Russian Olympic Committee’s gold medal came after they had qualified in first. But for the palpable sense of disbelief that engulfed the Ariake Gymnastics Centre as Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast on the planet, the one they – just about as big a crowd as you can expect to find at these Olympics – had all come to see, bowed out of the women’s team final after just one vault.

A “mental issue” was the explanation initially reported by US broadcasters, a “medical issue” the rather more vague one offered up by US Gymnastics soon after.

Biles, bravely, remarkably, gave us a much fuller answer herself.

“I feel like I’m not having as much fun” she said, breaking into tears. “This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself and it felt like I was still doing for other people – and that hurts my heart, that doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people.

“There comes a time when I have to do it for myself. Coming in today I was like fighting those demons. I have to do what’s right for me and not jeopardise my health and wellbeing. That’s why I decided to kind of take a step back.”

The result was  that, in a post-Bolt, post-Phelps world, after watching their poster girl Naomi Osaka crash out under “too much pressure” this morning, these Games had now lost their biggest star, for tonight at least, and who knows, how much longer.

In less than 48 hours, she is scheduled to be back here for the first of five individual finals, but those plans must surely be in doubt. “We’ll take it a day at a time,” she said afterwards. The expectation is she will return and fingers crossed. She almost certainly won’t be in Paris three years from now.

Amidst it all there was an historic, unexpected bronze medal for Great Britain, the quartet of Alice Kinsella, Amelie Morgan and twin sisters Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova stringing together the collective performance of their young lives to deliver the country’s first medal in the event since they finished third in Amsterdam in 1928, despite having been down in seventh at the midway point. They pipped Italy, Japan and France to a spot on the podium, with less than a point separating the four nations.

This was supposed to be the grandest of spectacles and, full-house or not, organisers were intent on making it so. After a light show, a Japanese troupe were sent out as a warm-up act, their acrobatics mildly impressive until, within 20 minutes, the stadium was filled with literally the best vaulters and summersaulters on the planet, rather like being thrilled by a friend’s starter at their dinner party, only for Michel Roux to bowl in and start dishing up the main.

Observing these finals, as eight teams and 32 athletes whirr through four pieces of apparatus simultaneously, you experience what all parents must do while watching their children run amok in a park playground; someone tumbling here, falling off something there and, oh god, where’s the one I’m supposed to be watching?


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