Simone Biles stuck the landing.
The American gymnastics superstar won bronze during the balance beam final on Tuesday, a week after she took herself out of several competitions to focus on her mental health.
Biles earned her seventh career Olympic medal — tied with Shannon Miller for the most by an American in gymnastics — by drilling a slightly watered-down version of her usual routine in front of a crowd that included IOC President Thomas Bach.
Biles, using a double-pike dismount — no twisting required — posted a score of 14.000. That was good enough for bronze behind the Chinese duo of gold medalist Guan Chenchen (14.633) and Tang Xijing (14.233).
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Canadian Ellie Black just missed out on the podium finishing fourth with a score of 13.866 for her best individual Olympic result. Black had aggravated a previous ankle injury dismounting from the beam during training a week earlier.
Black pulled out of women’s all-around final last Thursday after she sprained her left ankle which she originally injured last month. The 25-year-old is competing in her third Olympics.
She completed difficult elements in her final routine with a few wobbles, but stuck her landing. Black then hugged her coach David Kikuchi and wept.
Kyle Shewfelt was the first Canadian to win a medal of any colour in artistic gymnastics when he claimed men’s floor exercise gold in 2004.
Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee of the United States finished fifth. The 18-year-old Lee won three medals in Tokyo, including silver in the team final and bronze on uneven bars.
Biles arrived on the floor about 90 minutes before the competition started, wearing a red, white and blue leotard emblazoned with nearly 5,000 crystals. If she was nervous, it hardly showed. She warmed up as if it was just another day back in the gym her family owns in the northern Houston suburbs. Twice she hopped onto the beam to do a run-through of her routine and she stuck her double-pike dismount to applause from the stands and the whir of dozens of cameras.
Biles arrived in Tokyo as the face of the U.S. contingent in Japan and perhaps the Games themselves. Yet the brilliance she’s summoned so easily for so long during her run atop the sport came undone after qualifying on July 25.
She bailed out of her vault during the first rotation of the team finals on July 27, then stunningly removed herself from the competition as a matter of protection because she was having difficulty locating herself in the air. She later described the phenomenon as “the twisties” and subsequently pulled out of the all-around, uneven bars, floor exercise and vault finals.
The decision amplified increased attention on the importance of mental health in sports in general and among Olympians specifically. Add it to the growing list of movements the 24-year-old Biles has become a touchstone for during her rise to stardom.
She’s spent the last week continuing to train and be evaluated by team physician Dr. Marcia Faustin while doubling as lead cheerleader for a U.S. women’s team that has racked up some serious hardware in her absence.