Simone Biles’ US teammates Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey have kicked off their quest for all-around gold in strong form, as the world’s top gymnasts went head-to-head to compete for the championship title on Thursday morning – a battle that was blown wide open by the defending gold medalist’s decision to pull out of the race.
The two US athletes began their all-around competition on the vault at the Ariake arena in Tokyo morning – one day after Biles, 24, made the shock announcement that she was pulling out of the final in order to ‘focus on her mental health’, following her surprise withdrawal from the team final on Tuesday.
Both Lee, 18, and Carey, 21, pulled off impressive performances on their first event, earning strong starting scores of 14.6 and 15.2 respectively.
The two women are both considered strong contenders for a medal in the competition – with Lee qualifying for the final in third place, behind Biles and Brazilian athlete Rebeca Andrade.
While Carey only earned her spot in the lineup after Biles chose to withdraw, she boasts some of the most difficult skills in the world, which could give her the potential to rack up enormous scores.
The Team USA athletes will face tough competition from the likes of Brazilian star Andrade, as well as Russian gymnasts Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova, and the final is expected to be incredibly close – a marked change from recent years, during which Biles has proven unbeatable.
Following the first rotation in the competition, Adrade, 22, is in first place position, having qualified for the final in second place behind Biles. Carey is in silver medal position after earning a hefty score with her Cheng vault, while her teammate Lee is in fourth place behind Russian Olympic Committee gymnast Melnikova, 21.
Although Biles put on a brave face from the stands, where she was pictured waving and blowing kisses to the cameras, it was clear that the experience of watching her countrymen compete for the title that she was widely expected to win was somewhat emotional.
The fallen star wiped a tear from her eye as she watched her replacement, Carey, land her vault, which is one of Biles’ favorite disciplines.
Biles, who pulled out of the event to protect her mental health, was comforted by her best friend and teammate Jordan Chiles and her coach Cecile Landi.
Wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue sweatpants the Olympic Champion appeared unsettled and anxious as she watched her team-mates from the front row of the stands.
Biles was constantly checking her phone and seeking reassurance from Chiles, 20, as the event progressed.
Watching on: Simone Biles went from the all-around gold medal favorite to supportive spectator on Thursday when she stepped out to watch her teammates Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey compete in the final in Tokyo
Back-up: The 24-year-old was joined by her teammates Grace McCallum, Jordan Chiles, and Mykayla Skinner
Ready to go! Both Lee (left), 18, and Carey (right), 21, are in strong contention for the gold medal, with the latter only earning her spot in the all-around final when Biles announced that she was withdrawing
First up: Minnesota native Lee earned a strong score of 14.6 with her Yurchenko double twist
Flying high: Carey, who is from Arizona, completed an impressive Cheng that earned her a 15.2
Biles announced on Wednesday that she would not be defending her Olympic all-around title in today’s final, following her shock decision to pull out of the team final after just one event to ‘focus on her mental health’.
The gymnast broke her silence in the wake of the announcement hours later, when she thanked her fans for their ‘support and love’, noting that her fans have helped her to realize ‘she is more than gymnastics’.
‘The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,’ Biles tweeted on Wednesday night.
The gymnast stunned spectators and athletes alike in Tuesday’s team final when she flubbed her vault – her first skill – by bailing out of a skill mid-air, completing just one-and-a-half twists instead of the intended two-and-a-half, an error that saw her earn an uncharacteristically low score of just 13.766.
Moments later, it was announced that she was pulling out of the lineup altogether, leaving her three teammates, Lee, Jordan Chiles, 20, and Grace McCallum, 18, to try and overtake their Russian rivals without her. While the trio of first-time Olympians put on a bold fight – at one point narrowing the gap between themselves and the Russian Olympic Committee to just a few tenths of a point – they ultimately ended up in silver medal position.
Biles later hinted that the horrific sexual abuse she endured at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar is behind the mental health issues that prompted her shock withdrawal.
The 24-year-old drew a line between the trauma of Nassar’s abuse and her decision to pull out of both the team and individual all-around medal events for the first time when she retweeted a statement of support from a fellow gymnast – who hit out at critics of the sporting superstar, while reminding the world that Biles was ‘molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood’.
‘We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teenage years,’ the statement, which was written by former gymnast-turned-fitness trainer Andrea Orris, read.
It continued: ‘That girl has endured more trauma by the age of 24 than most people will ever go through in a lifetime.’
Although Biles, who was seen for the first time since the announcement when she stepped out to cheer on Team USA’s male gymnasts in Tokyo on Wednesday, did not issue her own statement about Nassar or her decision to pull out of the all-around, a US official told DailyMail.com that Orris’ message ‘sums up everything Simone is feeling and wants to say’.
The source continued: ‘The fact that Simone has retweeted it, shows that she agrees with every word that’s been said on her behalf.’
Biles, who has been incredibly outspoken in her criticism of USAG’s handling of the Nassar scandal, and her struggle to deal with the resulting trauma of his abuse, did not share her own statement – instead allowing the news to be shared by the organization that she has so frequently blasted for ‘failing’ to protect its gymnasts from the pedophile doctor.
‘After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, in order to focus on her mental health,’ the statement read.
‘Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s individual event finals. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.’
Biles is one of more than 150 gymnasts who were abused by Nassar, the former national team doctor, during his 30-year career, and in 2019, she revealed that the trauma of the assaults had left her struggling with suicidal thoughts.
At the time, she admitted that she was ‘sleeping all the time’ because it was ‘the closest thing to death’, while revealing that she was undergoing therapy in order to deal with the abuse.
Biles thanked her fans for their ‘love and support’ after her shock withdrawal from the individual all-around final at the Tokyo Olympics in a tweet on Wednesday
Biles (pictured on Wednesday in Tokyo) hinted that the abuse she suffered at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar is behind the mental health issues that pushed her to withdraw from the team and individual all-around finals
The 24-year-old revealed in 2018 that she was one of more than 150 gymnasts abused by the former national team doctor (right) during his 30-year career and she later admitted that the trauma of the abuse left her suffering with suicidal thoughts
Simone’s decision to pull out of the competition came just moments after she suffered a very uncharacteristic stumble on the vault
The 24-year-old – who had been expected to lead the US to gold in the team event – withdrew from the lineup after flubbing her vault in the opening minutes of the team final