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She's Still Dealing With The Twisties, But Simone Biles Wins Another Medal In Tokyo

U.S. star Simone Biles poses with the bronze medal following the women's balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
U.S. star Simone Biles poses with the bronze medal following the women's balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Updated August 3, 2021 at 8:32 AM ET

TOKYO — After pulling out of multiple events to focus on her mental health, U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles was back on the mat for Tuesday's balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympics. And she won a bronze medal.

"I wasn't expecting to walk away with a medal. I was just going out there to do this for me and whatever happens, happens," Biles said after competition, adding that it "just meant the world to be back out there."

China's Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing won gold and silver in the last Olympic event for women's artistic gymnastics.

It's the seventh Olympic medal for Biles, bringing her even with Shannon Miller as the U.S. gymnast with the most medals ever.

Biles says she's still dealing with the "twisties"

Biles said last week that she was dealing with a dreaded and terrifying phenomenon know as the twisties, where a gymnast can feel lost in the air. She withdrew from the team final shortly after a difficult first vault and then pulled out of the individual all-around and the three other event finals.

On Tuesday, she said she's still experiencing the phenomenon. "Every time I watch the guys and the girls out there, I want to puke every time I watch them do a double-double [a move involving twists] because I cannot fathom how they're doing it," Biles said.

But she found a way to compete on the beam: "I didn't twist." That meant downgrading the difficulty of her dismount.

Biles looked happy and relieved at the end of her routine on the 4-inch-wide beam, smiling and waving at the crowd to roaring applause in the nearly empty stadium.

Judges gave her a 14.000 score for a set that included a "wolf turn" and a double-pike dismount.

U.S. star Simone Biles looks relieved as she finishes the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women's apparatus final on Tuesday at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Natacha Pisarenko / AP
U.S. star Simone Biles looks relieved as she finishes the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women's apparatus final on Tuesday at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Biles is still sorting out what she's feeling and why this happened

"I don't really know how I'm feeling right now. I just feel I have to go home and work on myself and be OK with what's happened," Biles said.

It was a shock to suddenly have her mind and body out of sync, she said. "That's what I couldn't wrap my head around. What happened, was I overtired, and just like, where did the wires not connect?"

"That was really hard because it's like, I trained my whole life. I was physically ready. I was fine," Biles said. "Then this happens, and it's something that was so out of my control."

She said she started feeling the effects of the twisties the day after the qualifier, while practicing a tumbling pass. "And that's when the wires just snapped."

U.S. gymnast and all-around individual champion Sunisa Lee was also competing on beam Tuesday. She started her routine cleanly and saved herself from a near fall in the final seconds, scoring a 13.866. She ended up placing fifth.

"I'm really proud of myself. I'm actually super happy with the way this turned out," Lee said. "I really love Simone and just having her by my side was super great because she is a role model to me."

Biles opens up about the difficulty of withdrawing

"It wasn't easy pulling out of all those competitions. I physically and mentally wasn't in the right headspace and I didn't want to jeopardize my health or my safety because at the end of the day it's not worth it," Biles said. "My mental and physical health is above all medals that I could ever win."

Biles said she felt embarrassed to withdraw, and she wasn't expecting such an outpouring of support from her fellow athletes and fans.

"Especially when we went to the [Olympic] Village ... everybody coming up to me and saying, like, how much I meant and how much I've done with them, I was like crying in the Olympic store because I just wasn't expecting that," Biles said.

She added that she's not thinking ahead right now to the Paris Olympics in 2024 — she's going to keep on taking care of herself.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.