Olympics-Gymnastics-Many 'twisties' and turns, but Biles exits Games a champion

Tokyo 2020

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Gymnastics - Artistic - Women
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Gymnastics - Artistic - Women's Team - Final - Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Simone Biles of the United States in action on the vault. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File photo

By Steve Keating

TOKYO (Reuters) - Simone Biles was always expected to make headlines at the Tokyo Olympics and the U.S. gymnast did just that, and more - but not in a way anyone would have ever expected.

While Biles did not rewrite the Olympic record book asplanned, she did leave an indelible mark on the Tokyo Games,changing the narrative from winning medals to championingathlete mental health and well-being.

Suddenly everyday conversation revolved around "thetwisties", a type of mental block where gymnasts are disorientedduring their gravity-defying skills and something few outsidethe sport had heard of prior to the Tokyo Olympics.

The 24-year-old had come to Japan eyeing a record haul ofsix golds, which would have made her the most successful femaleOlympian of all-time across any sport. But instead she suffereda crisis of confidence dropping out of the opening event, theteam competition, after just one vault.

For the next week Biles' story would overshadow everythingelse that happened at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, and much ofthe Games, as she withdrew from event after event.

Not even the coronation of Japan's Daiki Hashimoto, thewinner of the men's all-around and high bar gold, plus a silverin the men's team, as successor to his country's gymnasticsgreat 'King' Kohei Uchimura, could nudge Biles out of theOlympic spotlight.

The winner of four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics, Bilescould only look on from the sidelines as first the team titleshe led the United States to in Rio went to the Russian OlympicCommittee (ROC), then her individual all-around crown wasclaimed by team mate Sunisa Lee.

Another U.S. team mate, Jade Carey, would replace her asgold medallist on the floor and Brazil's Rebeca Andrade wouldclaim her vault title.

But in one last dramatic twist, Biles would return to actionon the balance beam for the final event of the women'sgymnastics competition on Tuesday, hoping to end a tumultuousGames on a golden high.

There would be no storybook ending. The final gold would goto China's Guan Chenchen, but a courageous Biles would be hailedas a champion nonetheless after taking the bronze, the same asshe did five years earlier in Rio.

A team silver and the beam bronze bring Biles' careerOlympic haul to seven medals, but that falls far below thetarget many had set for the powerhouse American.

It was that pressure and expectation that appeared to derailBiles' Olympics, and she spoke with remarkable candour about herdecision to prioritise her mental and physical well-being.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged thatmore needs to be done for athlete well-being, particularly thosewho have spoken about the crushing weight that comes withcompeting in the Olympic pressure cooker.

"More could be done," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams, addingthat it was a matter that the organisation had been working onfor some time.

As Biles exited the Olympic stage, she used it to issue adefiant reminder that athletes are human after all.

"Mentally I still have a lot of things that I have to workon but to bring the topic of conversation on mental health tolight means the world to me," said Biles.

"People have to realise that at the end of the day we'rehumans, we're not just entertainment."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Tokyo; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Michael Perry)

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