Simone Biles returned to competition on Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics to claim the bronze medal in balance beam, her only individual event of these Games after withdrawing from previous events due to what she described as “the twisties,” a dangerous loss of spatial awareness in the air.
The 24-year-old removed some of the most difficult elements from her routine, including a dismount that is named after her—downgrading the skill from a double-twisting double tuck to a double pike, according to ESPN. She executed cleanly with a huge smile on her face, hopping just slightly on her landing. Her score of 14.00 secured her second bronze medal in the balance beam; she also finished third at the Rio Olympic Games.
With a career record of seven Olympic medals, Biles is now tied with fellow two-time Olympian Shannon Miller as the most decorated American gymnast in Olympic history, ESPN says—though Biles has four gold medals to Miller’s two.
With her modified routine, Biles did not enter the competition as a gold medal favorite.
“I wasn’t even expecting to medal on beam,” Biles told ESPN after the meet. “I was just trying to hit one more beam set. To have one more opportunity to compete at the Olympics meant the world to me.”
China’s Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing earned the gold and silver medals with scores of 14.633 and 14.233, respectively. Biles’ U.S. teammate Sunisa Lee, the individual all-around Olympic champion, placed fifth with a score of 13.866.
“It’s not easy giving up a dream of five years and not getting to do it. It was really, really hard,” Biles said after the competition to NBC Olympics. “I’ve never been in the stands, so I just wasn’t used to it, so to have one more opportunity to compete meant the world.”
USA Gymnastics announced Biles’s return to the competition floor just 24 hours before the event final. The news was a surprise after the 2016 Rio Olympic individual all-around champion withdrew from competition last Tuesday during the team competition final, and subsequently withdrew from her other individual events of all-around, vault, bars, and floor.
Before being cleared to compete, she had daily check-ins with her team and two sessions with a sports psychologist, People reported. Three days before the event final, she told her coach Cecile Landi that she was ready to come back—despite receiving news that her aunt had “unexpectedly passed.”
“That was another one, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This week needs to be over,’ ” Biles’s coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi told People. “I asked her what do you need.
“And she said, ‘I just need some time.’ I said, ‘You call me, text me if you need anything I’ll be here. Whatever that is.’ She called her parents. She said, ‘There’s nothing I can do from over here. So I’m just going to finish my week and when I get home we’ll deal with it.’”
Biles, who was billed as one of the stars of these Olympic Games and is widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time, has sparked widespread discussion of mental health in athletics these last couple weeks. While a few have criticized her decision to pull out of the team competition—Team USA earned silver in the competition—the response has been overwhelmingly supportive and encouraged other athletes to speak out as well.
“At the end of the day, we’re not just entertainment, we’re humans,” she told the New York Times. “And I think people forget that.”