Olympics Live: Simone Biles Withdraws From All-Around Competition
Current time in Tokyo: July 28, 3:35 p.m.
Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, will not compete in Thursday’s all-around competition after withdrawing from the team finals because of a mental health issue, according to an emailed statement from U.S.A. Gymnastics.
“Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s event finals,” the statement said.
Biles, 24, had qualified for all four event finals next week and was expected to win gold in at least three of those events. In the all-around, she was hoping to repeat her title from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games to become the first woman to win back-to-back titles in the all-around in 53 years.
After the first event in Tuesday’s team finals, in which the U.S. team won the silver medal, Biles told her coach and a team doctor that she could not continue because she was mentally not focused enough to perform her events safely. During her vault, the first event of the night, she got lost in the air and didn’t know where her body was in relation to the ground, and was forced to perform a simpler vault than she had planned. On the landing, she bounded forward, trying to stay on her feet.
Afterward, Biles said she had been feeling increasingly stressed as the Olympics have unfolded. In the hours before the event, her body was shaking and she could not nap to relax.
Once the team event began, she realized that she was not in the right “head space” to continue because she was afraid of injuring herself, and also because she didn’t want to jeopardize the team’s chances at winning a medal. The U.S. team had dominated the sport for more than a decade before the Russians won the gold medal on Tuesday.
Jade Carey, who had the ninth highest score in qualifications, will take Biles’s place in the all-around final. It is not clear whether Biles will compete in any of the individual apparatus finals.
In her third Summer Games, Katie Ledecky was finally able to swim for Olympic gold in what is essentially her best event: the 1,500-meter freestyle, the longest race contested in the pool.
Since 1904, the event had been available only to men in the Olympic Games. Women who contested the event in other meets had to settle for the 800 meters at the Games, an event that Ledecky will try to win for a third time on Saturday.
On Wednesday morning, though, she finally got her chance in the 1,500 and delivered her first gold of the Tokyo Games. Ledecky’s time of 15 minutes 37.34 seconds was more than four seconds faster than her American teammate Erica Sullivan (15:41.41), who won the silver, and more than five seconds ahead of the bronze medalist, Sarah Kohler of Germany (15:42.91).
Ledecky holds the world record and had the top qualifying time on Monday. Her victory in the swimming equivalent of a 5-kilometer run — a grueling marathon that requires 30 trips up and back the length of the pool — came a little more than an hour after Ledecky had finished fifth in the 200 freestyle final.
But in just competing in the race, Ledecky — who has won three 1,500-meter world championships and has set world records six times, more than any swimmer in the event, male or female — was getting an opportunity denied to distance-swimming greats like Janet Evans, Debbie Meyer, Shane Gould and Jennifer Turrall.
Until 1968, the longest Olympic event in women’s swimming was only 400 meters. Meyer won the first 800-meter Olympic race for women at the Mexico City Games that year, as well as the 200 and 400 freestyle.
She held the world record in both the 800 and the 1,500 back then, and she told The Times in 2014 that she questioned why the longer race was not available at the Olympics. Meyer said she had been told that there weren’t enough countries with women competing in the 1,500.
“It really was all about the thinking then,” she said, “which was, women were the weaker sex and because men were stronger people, they could last the distance.”
Over the years, other discrepancies in swimming have been resolved. From 1984 to 1996, for example, the men had three relays and the women two. At the Atlanta Games, the women gained parity, with a 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
But FINA, the international governing body for aquatics, had long resisted allowing women to compete in the 1,500 at the Summer Games, despite efforts in every sport to make the Olympic experience equal for women and men.
In 2015, Julio Maglione, the FINA president, said he doubted that the 1,500 could be added to the Olympic program, which was already packed with races at multiple distances for every stroke.
Yet now, not only have women gained the 1,500, but male distance swimmers also have an 800 on their schedule for the first time since 1904. A mixed medley relay has been added, with two men and two women on each team.
The longest swim in Tokyo, however, will not take place in the pool. The 10-kilometer open-water event was added to the Olympics in 2008, with races for men and women.
No one could imagine the pressure. No one could understand the difficult decision she faced. After all, there’s only one greatest gymnast of all time.
Simone Biles’s decision to leave the Olympic gymnastics team event on Tuesday because she wasn’t in the right head space sparked an outpouring of support from fellow athletes, politicians, celebrities and others.
Her withdrawal follows similar decisions by other top Black athletes, including Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open in May, to prioritize their mental health over competing.
Biles said after the team final that she had hoped to compete for herself, but “felt like I was still doing it for other people.” She added, “So that just, like, hurts my heart, because doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
It’s impossible to understand the pressure Simone Biles—the greatest gymnast in the history of the sport—and Naomi Osaka are feeling, but we’re lucky to live in a time where young Black trailblazers are publicly prioritizing their mental health above all else. That’s power.
— Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) July 27, 2021
Black women are continuously shifting the narrative on what it means to be a “strong Black woman”. To be strong is to thrive, and not suffer. There is strength in putting yourself first. Especially in these systems that do not serve us. Thank you @naomiosaka and @Simone_Biles.
— Dr. Raven the Science Maven (@ravenscimaven) July 27, 2021
Some noted that Biles’s decision signaled a larger shift in the culture of professional sports.
“Watching these Black women athletes use and navigate power over the last 25 years,” Franklin Leonard, a film producer, said. “What an extraordinary gift it has been.”
The journalist Wesley Lowery echoed Mr. Leonard’s assessment.
it’s still playing out, but this new generation of young athletes setting a new set of boundaries around mental health/what they owe the public and the media//their own agency (in part downstream of them having more power but not only that) feels paradigm shifting
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) July 27, 2021
Some criticized U.S.A. Gymnastics as having placed too much pressure on Biles.
Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time, but USAG’s strategy of not caring about team composition or lineups because Simone will save the day is not a healthy or sustainable method. It’s too much to put on a person, no matter how great she is.
She deserves better.
— m!a j merr!ll (@ameliamerr_) July 27, 2021
And if anyone could relate, it was her fellow athletes.
Just a friendly reminder: Olympic athletes are human & they’re doing the best they can. It’s REALLY hard to peak at the right moment & do the routine of your life under such pressure. Really hard.
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) July 26, 2021
So glad @Simone_Biles made that call tonight.
As a gymnast, I can tell you, if you don’t trust yourself, you can’t keep going. It’s no joke; you could get seriously hurt. It’s not worth the risk. No medal is worth the risk.
Let’s normalise putting your mental health first.
— Mary-Anne Monckton (@Monckton07) July 27, 2021
TOKYO — Wednesday began with five swimming finals, including a victory by Katie Ledecky in the first women’s 1,500-meter freestyle, before baseball and basketball moved to center stage.
The inaugural three-on-three basketball tournaments have won over quite a few converts, and the semifinals and gold medal games are tonight.
After losing its opener against France in the men’s five-on-five, the U.S. team will be looking to take out its frustrations on an overmatched Iran.
Baseball returned to the Olympics in large part because of Japan’s love of the sport. The Japanese team opens the tournament with a game against the Dominican Republic in Fukushima.
TOKYO — Just four days after Naomi Osaka mounted the stairs to light the Olympic cauldron, an event presented as a symbol of a new, more inclusive Japan, that image was undermined on Tuesday by a backlash that followed her surprise defeat in Tokyo.
Many Japanese were stunned by Osaka’s third-round loss to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic after she had been favored to take the women’s tennis gold medal on home soil.
But as the face of a Summer Games riddled with scandal and anxiety over an unstinting pandemic — Tokyo posted a record number of new coronavirus cases on Tuesday — Osaka took a drubbing on Japanese social media, with some questioning her identity or her right to represent the country at all.
“I still can’t understand why she was the final torchbearer,” one commenter wrote on a Yahoo News story about her loss. “Although she says she is Japanese, she cannot speak Japanese very much.” Several comments like that one that were harshly critical of Osaka were given “thumbs up” by 10,000 or more other Yahoo users.
Her selection as the final torchbearer at the opening ceremony demonstrated how eager the Olympic organizers were to promote Japan as a diverse culture. The Washington Wizards star Rui Hachimura, who is of Japanese and Beninese descent, also featured prominently as a flag-bearer for the Japanese Olympic team.
But in some corners of society, people remain xenophobic and refuse to accept those who don’t conform to a very narrow definition of what it means to be Japanese.
Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage on Wednesday morning, including synchronized diving, medals in three-on-three basketball and rugby, and lots of soccer. All times are Eastern.
DIVING Andrew Capobianco and Michael Hixon of Team U.S.A. will compete for gold in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard event at 2 a.m. on the USA Network.
RUGBY The USA Network will air the men’s gold and bronze medal matches at 4:30 a.m.
THREE-ON-THREE BASKETBALL The inaugural three-on-three basketball tournaments have won over quite a few converts. In the women’s semifinals, the U.S. faces off against France at 4 a.m., and the Russian Olympic Committee plays China at 5:10 a.m. In the men’s semifinals, Serbia plays Russian Olympic Committee at 4:30 a.m. and Belgium plays Latvia at 5:40 a.m. Watch on NBCOlympics.com and the USA Network.
SOCCER Germany faces Ivory Coast in the group stage of the men’s tournament. Kickoff is at 4 a.m. on NBCSN. France will take on the home team Japan at 7:30 a.m., also on NBCSN. Other matches to follow on NBCOlympics.com: Germany vs. Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia vs. Brazil at 4 a.m.; Romania vs. New Zealand and South Korea vs. Honduras at 4:30 a.m.; Australia vs. Egypt and Spain vs. Argentina at 7 a.m. Telemundo will air South Africa vs. Mexico at 7:15 a.m.
CANOE/KAYAK NBCSN will air heats of women’s whitewater slalom at 6:30 a.m.
FENCING Men’s team sabre bronze matches are at 5:30 a.m. and gold matches are at 6:30 a.m. on NBCOlympics.com.
TOKYO — Simone Biles lost her way midair while vaulting in the women’s team final on Tuesday, then suddenly exited the competition, saying she wasn’t mentally prepared to compete. Biles’s absence created a bigger opening for the Russians, who won the gold.
Biles had planned to do an Amanar, a difficult vault with two and a half twists. But, she said, she lost her bearings in the air. She completed only one and a half twists, then stumbled out of her landing.
Minutes later, U.S.A. Gymnastics confirmed that Biles had withdrawn from the competition, leaving the United States without its highest-scoring gymnast.
“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness,” Biles said after the competition, in which the United States took silver. “I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for, kind of, my screw ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that.”
There are favorites, and there are underdogs. And the favorites usually win, of course.
But with more than 300 gold medals to be awarded at these Olympics, the laws of chance say that sometimes the favorites will stumble. It has happened before. The Russian ice hockey team in 1980. The wrestler Aleksandr Karelin in 2000. The American softball team in 2008.
In just the first few days of the Tokyo Olympics, some big names are joining the list.
U.S. women’s gymnastics team
After Simone Biles abruptly withdrew from the team competition Tuesday night, the U.S. took home the silver medal in an event they had long dominated and were favored to win. Russia won gold, and Britain claimed bronze.
Osaka became the face of the Games when she lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony. A gold medal in tennis would seem to have been the logical end to her story. Yet Osaka lost Tuesday to the 42nd-ranked player in the world, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, in a third-round trouncing, 6-1, 6-4. It took less than an hour.
Barty, the Australian tennis player who is the world No. 1, was eliminated in the first round after she fell in straight sets to Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-4, 6-3.
U.S. men’s basketball
The United States men’s basketball team had a couple of stumbles in exhibitions leading to the Games but was still a big favorite going in. It lost its opening game to France.
U.S. women’s soccer
The World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team showed little of its customary swagger in a 3-0 capitulation to Sweden. It also played Australia to a scoreless draw, although that was good enough for the U.S. to advance to the knockout round. On the men’s side, the pretournament favorite Spain opened with a draw against Egypt.
Japan beat the U.S., 2-0, on Tuesday in a replay of the last time these two rival teams faced off for the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, when Japan won and softball was then dropped from the Olympics. The win marks Japan’s second consecutive Olympic gold in the event.
Chinese synchronized diving team
China rarely loses in diving, and even less often in synchronized diving. Yet the men’s team lost to Britain in the synchronized platform event.
Chinese table tennis team
Another bad day for China, as Japan ended China’s dominance in table tennis with a gold medal in mixed doubles.
China won all four gold medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and the team of Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen was a heavy favorite this time. But Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito defeated them.
Granted, it was foretold, as her emerging rival, Ariarne Titmus of Australia, had posted better times than her recently in the 400-meter freestyle. But it was still stunning to see Ledecky, one of the most dominant distance swimmers in a generation, out-touched at the wall to be relegated to the silver medal.
Will there be more?
There’s a long way to go, and many more favorites. The U.S. women’s basketball team. The Serbian three-on-three basketball team. The Russian synchronized swimmers. Believe it or not, the Sinkovic brothers of Croatia in the pair rowing event.
Here’s a not very daring forecast: They might not all win.
Tokyo 2020 organizers on Wednesday reported 16 new coronavirus infections among Olympics personnel, bringing to 174 the total number of people connected to the Games who have tested positive since July 1.
No new infections were reported among athletes. Organizers also removed two earlier cases from their tally, including of one athlete, but did not offer details.
A total of 20 athletes are confirmed to have tested positive since arriving in Tokyo, derailing many of their Olympic hopes, but so far Covid-19 has mostly been a sidelight to the Games.
That is far from the case outside the Olympic bubble, where the virus is surging. Tokyo officials said on Tuesday that 2,848 people had tested positive for the virus, the city’s highest total in one day since the pandemic began. Government data also showed that 14.5 percent of coronavirus tests in the city were turning up positive, suggesting that many cases may be going unrecorded.
Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency since early 2020, with bars and restaurants closing early and sales of alcohol tightly restricted. But health experts said that the continuing surge in cases suggests that these measures, which had helped subdue earlier outbreaks, may no longer be as effective as the more contagious Delta variant accounts for a larger proportion of new cases.
A Moroccan boxer tried to bite his opponent’s ear during a heavyweight match on Tuesday.
Youness Baalla’s attempt to latch on to David Nyika’s ear failed while the pair were clinched together late in their 81- to 91-kilogram preliminary match on Tuesday. Nyika, 25, of New Zealand went on to win the match by unanimous decision and advance to the men’s quarterfinals.
“He didn’t get a full mouthful,” Nyika said. “Luckily he had his mouth guard in, and I was a bit sweaty.” While the referee missed the bite attempt during the match, it was caught on TV cameras.
According to his profile on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics website, Baalla, 22, was ranked No. 17 in the men’s heavyweight 91-kilogram class at the 2019 World Championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia. That same year, according to the profile, he was ranked No. 2 in the heavyweight division at the African Games in Rabat, Morocco.
Baalla, who is from Casablanca, secured a spot on the Moroccan national team at the 2020 African Olympic qualification tournament in Dakar, Senegal.
“I don’t have the right words to describe really what I am feeling,” Baalla said at the time, according to the Olympics live-blog that covered the African qualifiers. “I am going to Olympics! I trained so hard, you can’t imagine what I do for this.”
After the match, officials disqualified Baalla from the Tokyo Games.
Baalla’s desperation move was reminiscent of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ears during a heavyweight championship fight in Las Vegas in 1997. Tyson was disqualified in the third round, and Holyfield needed stitches to repair the tip of one ear.
Jessica Long, a Paralympic swimmer, remembered feeling invisible at a large gathering with the news media in Chicago ahead of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. She sat in a corner with two other American Paralympians, watching reporters interview their Olympic counterparts without paying any attention to the three of them.
But now, Long said in a recent telephone interview, she finally feels as though she is on a level playing field with the Olympians. The United States Olympic Committee voted last week to change its name to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Before the vote, the national Paralympic Committee had been a division of the national Olympic Committee since 2001. The United States is one of four countries that house the Paralympic and Olympic Committee within the same governing body.
“We’ve arrived,” said Long, now 27, a four-time Paralympian whose lower legs were amputated early in her childhood. She has won 23 medals. “When I was on the Beijing team with my friends, we were like: ‘Do you think we will ever get to that point? Do you think people will ever recognize Paralympics?’ For it to be in the name, it’s a huge, huge step.”
Brad Snyder, one of three athletes on the U.S.O.P.C. board of directors, said he had tears in his eyes when he voted in Chicago. A Paralympic swimmer who is now training for triathlons, Snyder said he was overwhelmed to be part of the moment.
“It wasn’t the Paralympians in the room driving this,” said Snyder, 35, who served in the Navy and lost his eyesight after an explosion from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. “It was everyone else, and that’s what made it so powerful.”
Over the past two and a half years, the committee has been involved in a series of scandals, including the revelation of years of sexual abuse by Lawrence G. Nassar, a doctor who worked for U.S.A. Gymnastics and received the equivalent of a life sentence last year.
The committee’s chief executive, Sarah Hirshland, was appointed last summer in an effort to turn things around. She has been credited as the driving force behind the merger.
Before the pandemic, the Japanese designer who created the Olympic and Paralympic mascots predicted that they would become the “face of the Games.”
It hasn’t quite turned out that way. The two mascots are ubiquitous in the Olympic merchandise being sold around Tokyo as the Games unfold. But in a country where mascots play a major role in corporate branding and merchandising, they have mostly been a subdued presence at the very event they were made to represent.
The Japanese public is not really swooning over them either, according to fans and experts who study the country’s mascot industry. The mascots’ social media profiles are modest, and a common complaint is that their names — Miraitowa and Someity — are hard to remember.
Miraitowa is the Olympic mascot, and Someity represents the Paralympics, which are scheduled to run in Tokyo from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
“Within the whirlwind of all the Olympic controversy, I think the mascots were forgotten somewhere along the way,” Yuki Fuka, 46, said as she walked around the Olympic Stadium with her daughter over the weekend. “The Games have just started, and their existence is already an afterthought.”
Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot, but Miraitowa and Someity are competing in a crowded local field because Japan already has thousands of whimsical, clumsy creatures, known as yuru-chara, that were created to promote their hometowns.
Japan’s best-known mascot may be Kumamon, a cuddly bear from Kumamoto Prefecture that helped popularize the yuru-chara phenomenon about a decade ago. The naughtiest one is almost certainly Chiitan, an unsanctioned “fairy baby” mascot from the city of Susaki that was once suspended from Twitter over its violent antics.
As of Tuesday, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots had about 15,000 Instagram followers between them, a small fraction of Chiitan’s nearly 900,000. Miraitowa had posted just 70 times on the platform in two years.
Are Miraitowa and Someity loathed or even disliked? Not at all. They’ve just been a bit, well, underwhelming.
“They’re not hated, design-wise. They seem to be functional. They seem to be doing a good job,” said Jillian Rae Suter, a professor of informatics at Shizuoka University, southwest of Tokyo, who has studied Japanese mascots. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion for them.”
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