GOAT, ‘twisties’ and beaming bronze: Biles’s Olympics in five moments

Sports Tokyo 2020

A G.O.A.T sequined into Biles' leotard. AFP
A G.O.A.T sequined into Biles’ leotard. AFP

Tokyo, Japan | AFP

by Nick REEVES

Simone Biles wound up her challenging Olympic Games on the third rung of the beam podium on Tuesday. Here AFP assesses her time in Tokyo in five moments:

The face of Tokyo 2020

Biles arrived in Japan as one of the poster girls of the pandemic-postponed 2020 Games, on a five-gold hunt to equal Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s career record of nine. 

With 32 Olympic and world championship medals (23 of them gold) to her name -- that’s one medal for every one-and-a-half inches of her diminutive, 4ft 8in (1.4.22m) frame -- she is widely recognised as the G.O.A.T. And she is so at ease with being identified as the greatest of all time that she now wears a leotard decorated with silver rhinestones in the shape of the said animal’s head.

She says by embracing it she hopes to inspire children not to be shy of success. And the status received affirmation from an unlikely source in the run-up to the Games when she became the first athlete to have her very own emoji courtesy of Twitter.

The shock withdrawal

Despite a stumbling qualifying performance Biles made it into all six finals, in contrast to Rio 2016 where she missed out on the uneven bars. 

But then her Olympic Games were turned upside down with her shock withdrawal after baulking in mid-flight on her first vault Amanar in the team’s final last week. 

Her record-breaking dream was in tatters.

Biles was forced into playing the role of frustrated onlooker. AFP
Biles was forced into playing the role of frustrated onlooker. AFP

The twisties

Few outside gymnastics’ centre of gravity would have come across “the twisties” before the condition, likened to the yips in golf, was thrust into the spotlight by Biles. 

While a golfer suffering from the phenomenon risks missing a putt, a gymnast risks breaking their neck, the disconnect between brain and body with the consequent loss of spatial awareness a truly terrifying mid-air crisis when somersaulting backwards at high velocity off the vault. 

“It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind (and) body in sync,” Biles told her 6.5 million followers on Instagram. Her plight received enormous support including from former US First Lady Michelle Obama and swimming legend Michael Phelps.

Biles and her twisties- affected vault in the team final. AFP
Biles and her twisties- affected vault in the team final. AFP

The brave return

As each of the finals she had won in Rio approached, so did the statement from US Gymnastics: “Simone Biles has withdrawn....” as daily medical assessments found she was not ready to return to her day job.

She took on the role of cheerleader-in-chief, shouting on her teammates from the wrong side of the fence. 

“Every time I watch the guys and the girls out there, I wanna puke. Every time I watch them do a double double because I cannot fathom how they’re doing it,” she said. 

Then, Monday, the inclusion of her name in the start list for the closing event, the beam, set pulses racing. 

Back in business. AFP
Back in business. AFP

Beaming bronze

“Guess who’s back?” tweeted the Olympics’ official Twitter site on Tuesday morning, accompanied by the image of a g.o.a.t. Could this gymnastic artist possibly paint a gold-tinted ending to one of her darkest hours as an athlete?

With her American teammates joyously celebrating her arrival at an expectant field of battle, a pensive Biles had everyone holding their breath as she hopped up onto the 10cm wide beam. 

The triple world champion on the apparatus put in a watered-down version of her usual heroics with a double pike dismount deployed for the first time since she was 12, so as to avoid any possible unfortunate mishap. 

She earned a decent 14.000 to claim bronze to repeat her podium position from Rio. 

Biles may be leaving without the sought-after gold rush but she feels proud at having put athlete’s mental issues centre stage.

“To bring the topic of conversation on mental health to life means the world to me because people have to realize at the end of the day, we’re humans, we’re not just entertainment,” she said feelingly on Tuesday.

The smile says it all. AFP
The smile says it all. AFP

nr/th

© Agence France-Presse

Tokyo 2020 AFP