TOKYO — After American star Simone Biles withdrew from the competition following one rotation in the team gymnastics final on Tuesday, the door was open for the team of Russian athletes to win gold for the first time in nearly three decades.
Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum guided the U.S. to silver while Biles cheered from the sideline in a white sweatsuit, at peace with a decision to pull out due to mental health struggle. It’s a decision that revealed a shift not only in Biles but perhaps the sport she’s redefined.
The Americans — fueled by an uneven bars routine by Lee that not even Biles could match — drew within eight-tenths of a point through three rotations. ROC, however, never wavered on floor. And they erupted when 21-year-old Angelina Melnikova’s score assured them of the top spot on the podium for the first time since the Unified Team won in Barcelona in 1992.
For Team USA, the turn of events was somewhat shocking. However, they were pleased to persevere and go home with silver.
“We really pulled together as a team,” McCallum told reporter Jack Doles. “We just had to trust our training and that everything would work out.”
“We definitely wanted to have her with us, but we understood what was going on,” Chiles added. “We support her with everything.”
Chiles stepped in to take Biles’ place on uneven bars and balance beam. The 20-year-old who made the team with her steady consistency pulled off a solid bars routine and drilled her balance beam set two days after falling twice on the event.
Without Biles and her otherworldly tumbling, the U.S. needed to be near perfect to close the gap. It didn’t happen.
Though the history books may mark Tuesday’s victory with an asterisk due to Biles’ early withdrawal, the Russians’ dazzling performance is the result of a concerted transformation since they finished a distant second to the American team at the 2019 World Championship. They became the first team in 11 years to beat the Americans in any event.
For Team USA, it was a missed opportunity — but one they can live with.
“This medal is definitely for (Biles),” said Chiles. “If it wasn’t if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here where we are right now. We wouldn’t be a silver medalist because of who she is as a person.”
“We did it together as a team,” noted McCallum.
“She’s the G-O-A-T,” added a smiling Chiles.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)