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Simone Biles withdraws from women’s gymnastics all-around final

Simone Biles landed awkwardly during the team competition Tuesday night. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

TOKYO — Simone Biles, the world’s best gymnast who had the chance to win up to five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, will not compete in the sport’s signature individual event. Biles withdrew from Thursday’s all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

Biles has not decided whether she will participate in the individual event finals scheduled to be held next week. Biles qualified for the finals on each apparatus.

“We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement released Wednesday. “Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”

After one rotation in Tuesday’s team final, Biles withdrew from the competition. Biles said afterward that she wasn’t in the “right head space,” so she decided to prioritize her mental health and sit out the rest of the competition.

Before the competition, Biles wrote on social media, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”

American gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the team and individual all-around finals during the first week of the Tokyo Olympics. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

That load became unbearable in the days leading up to the Games. Biles said she had some trouble at practices, even though her performance in the qualifying round didn’t portend the mental health struggle she explained days later.

“It is okay to take a back seat,” Biles said, “even at the most important meet.”

Biles performed only on vault, and after trouble in the warmup period, she stalled midway through the skill, completing only 1½ twists instead of 2½. Biles is typically excellent on that apparatus, but she said she felt lost in the air. She didn’t want to risk injury or the team’s medal chances by competing on the next three apparatuses. Biles said that five years ago she probably would have tried to push through the competition rather than withdrawing. But now she recognizes the need to prioritize her mental health.

When asked about her goals for the rest of the Games, Biles said: “To focus on my well-being and [that] there’s more to life than just gymnastics. And it is very unfortunate that it has to happen at this stage because I definitely wanted this Olympics to go a little bit better, but again, take it one day at a time. We’re going to see how the rest goes.”

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Teammate Jade Carey will compete in the all-around final in Biles’s place. Carey, who also qualified for finals on vault and floor, earned the ninth-best score in the qualifying round. Though the top 24 athletes qualify for the all-around final, Carey had been left out because just two athletes per country are allowed to advance. Carey will represent the United States alongside Sunisa Lee, a medal favorite who qualified for the final in third. The all-around competition will be held at 6:50 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.

Biles, 24, was trying to repeat as the Olympic all-around champion. No woman had won back-to-back all-around titles in more than 50 years, and Biles was poised to do so. Biles has won every all-around competition she has entered since 2013, a streak that includes the 2016 Olympics and five world championships.

She is widely considered the greatest gymnast in history, but Tuesday night in Tokyo, the pressure of another Olympics, this one delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, became too much.

“I know that this Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself,” Biles said, tears in her eyes, after the team final. “I came here, and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. So that just hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

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