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American star Simone Biles to return for Olympic balance beam finals

She removed herself from the team final Tuesday after a shaky performance on vault during the first rotation.
Simone Biles looks on with teammates Monday during the women's floor exercise in artistic gymnastics at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Simone Biles looks on with teammates Monday during the women's floor exercise in artistic gymnastics at the 2020 Summer Olympics. [ GREGORY BULL | AP ]
Published Aug. 2

TOKYO — Simone Biles is back.

The 2016 Olympic gymnastics champion will return to competition in the balance beam final on Tuesday, a little over a week after stepping away from the meet to focus on her mental health.

“We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow — Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!! Can’t wait to watch you both!” USA Gymnastics said in a statement.

The 24-year-old Biles won bronze on beam in Rio de Janeiro five years ago and qualified for the eight-woman final at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on the first weekend of the Games.

She removed herself from the team final on July 27 after a shaky performance on vault during the first rotation. She watched from the sidelines as her three American teammates completed the meet without her; the U.S. took silver behind the team known as the Russian Olympic Committee.

The six-time Olympic medalist later said she was dealing with issues surrounding air awareness, referred to as “the twisties” in her sport.

Biles qualified for all five individual event finals but took herself out of four of them: the all-around, vault, floor exercise and uneven bars. Lee earned the gold in the all-around, becoming the fifth straight American to claim the sport’s marquee title.

Considered to be the greatest gymnast of all-time and the unquestioned face of the U.S. Olympic movement when she arrived in Japan, Biles continued to train and be evaluated daily by the USA Gymnastics staff after opting out of multiple finals. She has also been a fixture in the stands supporting Lee, MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey while they competed in the event finals.

She went into extensive detail about “the twisties” last week, explaining she lost the confidence of knowing what her body was going to do in midair. It’s not the first time Biles dealt with the problem, though she did say the issues followed her to both uneven bars and beam. Previous bouts with the phenomenon were limited to floor exercise and vault, where more twisting elements are required.

Finishing her second Olympics — and perhaps her career — on balance beam is poetic justice of sorts for Biles. She got bronze in Rio despite grabbing the 4-inch piece of wood that’s 4 feet off the ground when she almost slipped mid-routine. It was her fifth medal at the Games. The other four were gold.

Biles has called the bronze the medal she earned in Brazil that she’s proudest of, and she’s taken to task those who called it a disappointment, using it as proof to the double standard she believes follows her whenever she competes.

Athletes from all over — both at the Olympics and elsewhere — have rallied around her over the last week, praising her courage for speaking up about the importance of mental health.

- Will Graves