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Simone Biles withdraws from vault and uneven bars finals

Simone Biles competes on the uneven bars during the team qualifying in Tokyo. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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TOKYO — U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles will not compete in the individual apparatus finals for vault and uneven bars at the Tokyo Olympics, USA Gymnastics announced Saturday. Biles, who entered these Games projected to earn up to five gold medals, withdrew from the team competition and the all-around final, citing the need to prioritize her mental health.

Biles had qualified for the finals on each apparatus, and she has not decided whether she will compete in Monday’s floor exercise or Tuesday’s balance beam finals.

“We remain in awe of Simone, who continues to handle this situation with courage and grace, and all of the athletes who have stepped up during these unexpected circumstances,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement.

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MyKayla Skinner, the U.S. gymnast who had the fourth-highest score in the qualifying round, will compete in the vault final alongside Jade Carey. Both Skinner and Carey will be medal contenders. Even though the top eight gymnasts qualify for the finals on each apparatus, Skinner, 24, an alternate for the Olympics in 2016, was left out of the field because just two athletes per country can advance. This is Skinner’s only opportunity to earn a medal, and she plans to retire from the sport after these Games.

On bars, Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos of France is the first alternate and will have the opportunity to compete in the final.

Biles’s lone appearance in medal competition in Tokyo is the one vault she performed in the team final. During that vault, she said she got lost in the air, only performing 1½ twists instead of 2½ twists. She since has explained how this spatial awareness issue, known in gymnastics as “the twisties,” has affected her on every apparatus.

“It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync,” Biles wrote Friday on Instagram.

Simone Biles said she got the ‘twisties.’ Gymnasts immediately understood.

Biles briefly posted videos of her practicing bars and landing on her back on two dismount attempts, unable to complete the double-twisting double tuck as normal. This issue — paired with or perhaps prompted by the immense mental toll of entering the Games with such high expectations — led Biles to realize that it would not be safe or helpful to the team’s medal chances for her to continue to compete in the team final.

“At the end of the day,” Biles said after the team final, “it’s like: ‘You know what? I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and my well-being.’”

Biles’s choice to sit out of such an important competition has drawn empathy from other Olympians, who understand the pressure of the Games, and many gymnasts, who understand the risk of performing difficult skills when not in the proper head space.

After Biles withdrew from the team final, the other three gymnasts — Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum — performed on each apparatus, even though Chiles was not previously slated to be in the lineup on bars or beam and Lee had practiced turns only during the formal warmup period ahead of the meet. The team earned the silver medal, and Biles said afterward, “They just showed the world what they’re capable of.”

Barry Svrluga: Sunisa Lee gave a statement performance in Tokyo. So did Simone Biles.

Biles was favored to repeat as the all-around champion, but in her absence, Lee shined and became the fifth straight American to win the title in the sport’s signature event. While Lee and Carey performed in the all-around final, Biles watched and cheered from the stands alongside the other U.S. Olympians who were not participating in the event.

Biles’s competitive future after these Games remains unclear. The career of the greatest gymnast in history could end here without the gold medals once expected but instead after taking a powerful stance that her mental health mattered more.

“We also have to focus on ourselves,” Biles, 24, said, “because at the end of the day we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

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