The Radical Courage of Simone Biles’s Exit from the Team USA Olympic Finals
Biles’s decision not to compete on Tuesday is, to many spectators, a heartbreak. It is also a welcome example of an athlete setting her own limits.
USA Gymnastics was already on the wrong foot entering the women’s team final at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday morning. Over the weekend, Simone Biles had stumbled during the qualifying rounds, bouncing not just out of bounds but off the mat after her second-to-last floor pass and flubbing landings on the vault and the beam. The U.S. women qualified in second place, behind Russia. Still, there was hope that, as in the past, they would end up indomitable in finals competition, in large measure because of Biles, who is rightly recognized as the greatest athlete in the sport’s history. Her skills, especially on the vault, are so advanced that the International Gymnastics Federation has scored their difficulty levels conservatively, for fear of incentivizing other athletes to put themselves in danger following her lead. The American women have not lost an international team meet since 2010, and, in recent years, Biles’s success has allowed them to win competitions by entire points in a sport often determined by tenths or hundredths. “I don’t think it’s going to come down to tenths of a point in Tokyo,” Tom Forster, the U.S. high-performance director, told the press in June, after the Olympic trials.