Superstar gymnast Simone Biles revealed Tuesday that she was processing a family emergency during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.
After winning the bronze medal on the balance beam, her first individual medal of the games, Biles told reporters her aunt on her dad’s side passed away earlier in the week, according to Olympics.com. “At the end of the day, people don’t understand what we are going through,” Biles said. “Two days ago, I woke up and my aunt unexpectedly passed, and it wasn’t any easier being here at the Olympic Games.”
Cecile Canquetau-Landi, Biles’ coach, reportedly said that the tragedy was not something the 24-year-old gymnast needed to hear. “That [the death] was another one, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This week needs to be over,'” Landi told reporters, according to People.
At the time she got the news, Biles had already pulled out of four events: the individual all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor. While initially citing mental health, Biles later told reporters she was suffering from a case of the “twisties,” a disorienting gymnastics phenomenon where the mind and body do not connect as they should.
Landi said Biles needed time to process the tragedy, and spoke to her parents over the phone from Tokyo. Biles also told her coach, “there’s nothing I can do from over here [Tokyo]. So I’m just going to finish my week and when I get home we’ll deal with it,” according to People.
Biles had “two sessions” with Team USA’s sports psychologist and was cleared to compete before getting the tragic news that her aunt had died, People reported.
Simone Biles ended the Olympics on her terms 👏 pic.twitter.com/fHU674rIh3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 3, 2021
Despite the news, Biles returned to the competition Tuesday for the individual balance beam event and managed to earn a bronze medal after a near-perfect routine. The medal was her seventh Olympic win and she now ties the record with Shannon Miller for the most medals won by an American gymnast, according to The New York Times.
“It means more than all the golds because I’ve pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here,” Biles told Today. “It was very emotional, and I’m just proud of myself and just all of these girls, as well.”
“I didn’t really care about the outcome,” she added. “I was just happy that I made the routine and that I got to compete one more time.” (RELATED: Did Simone Biles Save Team USA’s Chances At A Medal By Withdrawing?)
Despite the games not going how Biles “imagined or dreamed,” she wrote on Instagram that she’ll always cherish her time at the Tokyo games.
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Biles is also grateful for the impact her withdrawal had on the conversation of athletes and mental health.
“It’s something that people go through a lot that is kind of pushed under the rug,” Biles said, according to Olympics.com. “I feel like we’re not just entertainment, we’re humans, as well, and we have feelings.”
While it is too early to speculate whether Biles will be back for the Paris 2024 games, she told Today that she is “keeping the door open” for a potential return. “I think I have to relish and take this Olympics in, and kind of recognize what I’ve done with my career because, after 2016, I didn’t get to do that. Life just happens so quickly and now I have a greater appreciation for life after everything that’s happened in the last five years.”