TOKYO — The look on Simone Biles' face said everything. After she landed poorly on a vault during the first rotation of Tuesday's team finals at the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. gymnast appeared worried, rather than the supremely confident expression she usually wears.
Biles immediately went to coach Cecile Landi. Within a few minutes, the superstar left the competition floor at Ariake Gymnastics Centre, her competition over. Without the gymnast considered the greatest of all time, the U.S. women — including Minnesotans Suni Lee and Grace McCallum — were unable to repeat as Olympic team champions, finishing second to the resurgent Russians in a stunning upset.
After the competition ended, Biles said she was not in a good state of mind, and that continuing to perform her high-risk skills could be dangerous without total concentration and confidence. She has been shouldering the expectations of others for a long time, and the load simply became too heavy in that moment.
For her mental health and the good of the team, she said, she decided to withdraw from the competition.
"At the end of the day, I have to do what's right for me and focus on my mental health, and not jeopardize my health and well-being,'' said Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist. "I decided to kind of take a step back, let (her teammates) do the work, and they did it. The girls did exactly what they needed to do.''
Biles said she will evaluate herself each day and is uncertain whether she will compete in the all-around Thursday or the individual event finals later in the Games.
Russia finished with a team score of 169.528. The U.S. scored 166.096 for the silver, and Great Britain took bronze with 164.096. It marked the first time in a decade that the U.S. did not win the gold medal in an Olympics or world championships team competition.
The gold was the first for Russia in the Olympic women's team competition, though the country won gold as part of the Unified Team in 1992 and the Soviet Union won nine Olympic team titles between 1952-88.
After Biles' withdrawal, Lee, of St. Paul, McCallum, of Isanti, and Jordan Chiles, who trains with Biles in Texas, had to try to beat the much-improved Russians by themselves.
Lee performed her highest-difficulty uneven bars routine, with a 6.8 degree of difficulty, and nailed it for a huge score of 15.400. McCallum — the only U.S. gymnast besides Biles who was originally scheduled to do all four events — led off each event for the Americans and put out a cool, steady performance.
The U.S. trailed by as much as 2 ½ points but pulled within .800 before the final rotation, floor exercise. They had a major mistake when Chiles' feet slipped out from under her on the landing of a tumbling pass, causing her to fall backward. She got a score of 11.700, all but ending the U.S. hopes.
Lee said the rest of the team fully supported Biles' decision and wanted to win a medal for her, though it was shocking when they learned she would be pulling out of the team competition.
"We were all so stressed,'' Lee said. "We honestly didn't know what to do in that moment. Like, she's freaking Simone Biles. She carries the team, basically.
"When we had to step up to the plate and do what we had to do, it was very hard and stressful. But I'm very proud of us, because we did it.''
Russia posted the highest score of the qualifying round, the first time since 2010 the U.S. had not topped the standings in team preliminaries or finals at an Olympics or world championships. The Russians, who finished more than five points behind the Americans at the 2019 world championships, were elegant and precise. The Americans were error-prone.
None of the U.S. athletes spoke with media after Sunday's qualifying. USA Gymnastics high performance team coordinator Tom Forster said he hoped the sub-par performance "might be a great awakening for us,'' saying the mistakes were caused by fixable mental errors.
The U.S. started on vault Tuesday, usually one of Biles' best events. The last of the three U.S. gymnasts to compete, she was expected to do an Amanar, which has 2 ½ twists. Instead, Biles performed a Yurchenko 1 ½, a much lower-difficulty vault.
She landed in a crouch, nearly sitting down before lunging forward and earning a score of only 13.766. As the U.S. moved to the next rotation, bars, Biles left the floor. Chiles — who was supposed to sit out the uneven bars — began warming up.
After a few minutes, Biles returned, followed by a gaggle of TV cameras. Her right foot was wrapped, and her teammates surrounded her with hugs. Biles took off her hand grips used for bars routines and put on a warmup jacket, her night over.
The withdrawal meant Lee, who was supposed to perform only on bars and beam, also had to compete on floor exercise. First, she needed to give the U.S. her best on bars. The Russians led the team standings by 1.067 points after the first rotation and stood to widen the margin with their mastery of the bars.
“We were all so stressed. We honestly didn't know what to do in that moment. Like, she's freaking Simone Biles. She carries the team, basically. When we had to step up to the plate and do what we had to do, it was very hard and stressful. But I'm very proud of us, because we did it.”
Lee did her job magnificently. She made her intensely difficult routine look easy, stuck the landing and was wrapped in a big hug from coach Jess Graba. McCallum and Chiles hit their bars routines, too, but the Russians outscored them by 1.433 points on that apparatus to extend their lead to 2.5 points.
Biles stayed with her teammates, cheering them on and dancing with them on the sidelines. The Russians gave them an opening on beam. The leadoff gymnast, Vladislava Urazova, fell off the beam, had several other wobbles and took a step on her dismount. Angelina Melnikova, the team captain, also came off the beam.
Lee, Chiles and McCallum all hit their routines again. That closed the gap to .800 of a point going into the final rotation, floor exercise.
For McCallum, her Olympics competition is now over. Lee during qualifying competition earlier this week advanced to the all-around finals on Thursday (5:50 a.m. Central), and the finals in uneven bars (Sunday, 5:27 a.m.) and balance beam (Aug. 3, 3:48 a.m.). Those finals will be streamed live on Peacock and NBCOlympics.com, and replayed later each day on NBC.