“It just means a lot to me for all of them to be here cheering for me,” Lee said. “It sucks that I couldn’t have Simone on the floor with me, but just to even have her in the arena was very helpful because she is an inspiration to me and someone that I look up to.”
Biles was an equal-opportunity spectator, cheering for teammate Jade Carey, who also competed in the all-around competition, as well as gymnasts from other countries, like France’s Melanie de Jesus dos Santos and Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, who took the silver medal in a first for a Brazilian woman.
When Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee delivered a strong performance on the balance beam, Biles’s voice was loud, too, in an arena largely unoccupied because of the coronavirus pandemic. Through an interpreter, Melnikova said she heard Biles from across the arena.
“I even wrote her a message of support,” said Melnikova, the bronze medalist, “because I think it’s a such a pity and I really hope that she will get better because I admire her gymnastics.”
When Biles withdrew from the team competition after one rotation, she returned to the competition floor to offer that same type of support to the U.S. gymnasts. When they were upset to hear that she would not finish the meet, Biles helped them feel calm and confident.
“You have to support all of your competitors so that you go in with a healthy mind and not trying to compete against each other,” Biles said after withdrawing from the team event. “Because then pitting people against each other, it just gets a little bit harder. … That’s why we have teammates, because if somebody’s feeling down, you have to step up.”
Her teammates did just that, winning silver in the team competition without her.
“I knew they would be okay without me. Just watching them train, they’re a couple of the strongest competitors I know. Their heads are always on straight, and they have a lot of dedication and courage. So I knew they were going to be just fine,” Biles said. “So I wasn’t worried. I know they were a little bit worried going in, and emotions were all over the place. But I think they just needed reassurance that they were going to be okay. And look, they were. They did it without me, and they’re Olympic silver medalists.”
Thursday’s display of sportsmanship might have been foretold by Biles’s own tweet hours before the individual competition. After pulling out of the team and all-around events to focus on her mental health, she became a lightning rod for criticism as well as support. She focused on the latter responses.
“The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” she tweeted and retweeted ESPN’s images of her paying love and support forward.
“If there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side,” Biles told NBC in April.
She was already beginning to pass the torch to others even as she returned to Olympic competition this month, but her voice came through loud and strong, with a new weight, Thursday.
Boren reported from Washington.