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Gymnast Simone Biles Takes Bronze In A Triumphant Return On The Balance Beam

Aug 3, 2021
Originally published on August 3, 2021 9:54 am
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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

American gymnast Simone Biles returned to competition today at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. And if you don't want to know how she did, we are about to tell you. All right. Here goes. Simon Biles won a bronze medal on the balance beam, matching her performance at the last Olympic Games five years ago. Chinese gymnasts won gold and silver. Sixteen-year-old Guan Chenchen became the last performer of the competition. She lapped everyone and won gold. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is in Tokyo. He watched it all. He joins us now. So, Tom, tell us what you saw.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, A, let's start with the basics. What exactly she did on a 4-inch-wide balance beam, which, of course, is terrifyingly narrow to be doing what these gymnasts do. She did a bunch of moves, including jumps, a back handspring to two layout step outs, a back pike, a side aerial. And while those may mean nothing to you or me, the main thing is she did them well - no major bobbles. And after she landed her double pike dismount, which the International Gymnastics Federation described as terrific, she broke into a huge smile, put her hand over her heart, waved to the crowd, looked relieved, looked happy, shared a big hug with her coach and then said to her teammate, Suni Lee, who was next up on the beam, confidence, Suni - you got it. And Simone could have been talking to herself there.

MARTINEZ: Yeah - I mean, it's very, very dramatic. Remind us why it was that way.

GOLDMAN: Well, by now, the word twisties, A, should be in the dictionary. Right?

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Biles had a hugely publicized bout with the twisties, basically a mental block where a gymnast gets lost in the air, not knowing where they are and not the kind of thing you want to experience when you're airborne, obviously. It forced her to pull out during the team competition, then withdraw from the individual all around, then the individual apparatus competitions on uneven bars, floor exercise and vault. Here in Tokyo, we waited to see what she'd decide on the beam, figuring she'd probably call that off, too. But she stayed on the start list, apparently got a hold of her mental demons and put on a performance I think it's safe to call courageous. You know, with the whole world watching, wondering, she stayed focused and looked like the Simone Biles we've come to know. She said afterwards, I was proud of myself just to go out there after what I've been through.

MARTINEZ: And why was this performance so important for Biles?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, the old saying - important to get back up on the horse. And while she was widely praised for her actions withdrawing from competitions to care for herself and her mental well-being, it probably was important for her legacy to do this, even if she didn't win a medal, and probably more important for her to show she could conquer this while the whole world watched. And certainly, there's another message of empowerment after what she did tonight.

MARTINEZ: All right. Let's turn quickly to another big story of the Games - a Belarusian athlete who says officials from her national Olympic committee tried to force her to return to Belarus after publicly complaining about her coaches. What's the latest with that one?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, 24-year-old Krystsina Tsimanouskaya - excuse me for bungling that - a sprinter, reportedly is safe in Tokyo. She refused to board a flight back to Belarus. And Poland has offered her refuge and the chance to continue her athletic career there. The IOC has launched an investigation and is awaiting a report it - from the Belarusian Olympic officials. The U.S. has said Belarus' attempts to send her home represent transnational repression.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Tokyo. Tom, thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.