Simone Biles, who shocked the Olympic world Tuesday when she pulled out of the U.S. team gymnastics finals, said the emotional toll of the Tokyo Games, rather than a physical injury, prompted her withdrawal.
“Physically, I feel good. I’m in shape,” she told Hoda Kotb on NBC’s “TODAY” show following her exit. “Emotionally, it varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being head star isn’t an easy feat.”
She explained further to NBC’s Andrea Joyce that her struggle was “more mental, and we’re just dealing with a couple of things internally.”
But “the girls did well. They stepped up when they needed to,” she said.
After Biles’ departure, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won silver.
The Russian Olympic Committee won gold and the British team won bronze. The U.S. was hoping to clinch its third straight championship with a strong team, with Biles leading.
“I’m OK,” she told Kotb. “Just super frustrated. But super proud of these girls and now we’re silver medalists — something we’ll cherish forever. We hope America still loves us.”
A statement from USA Gymnastics originally said the 24-year-old gymnast withdrew due to a medical issue.
“She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,” officials said in the statement.
Biles’ coach later told NBC that “physically she is fine. But she is done for the night.”
Though shaky on some by her standards, Biles had qualified for all finals and was expected to go on to compete in individual all-around, floor exercise, beam, uneven bars and vault.
Kotb asked Biles if viewers can expect to see her in Thursday’s individual all-around competition, where she is the defending champion.
“We’re gonna take it day by day, and we’re just gonna see,” she said.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist competed in Team USA’s first rotation on vault Tuesday, bailing out of her Amanar and only completing a 1.5 twist on a 2.5-twisting Yurchenko, then taking a big stumble on the landing.
She then huddled with a trainer and exited the floor with the team doctor.
Biles scored a 13.766. An Amanar can score a maximum of 15.8. In qualifications, Biles scored a 15.183 on vault.
She then was expected to compete on the uneven bars, but Jordan Chiles was subbed in.
Biles returned to the floor with her team, in a sweatsuit, to cheer them on in remaining rotations from the sidelines.
She told Kotb that her teammates, Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum, “were freaking out” when she told them she was going to sit out the rest of the final.
“They were like crying,” she said. “And I was like, ‘You guys need to relax. You’re going to be fine without me. Go out there you kick some butt just like you’ve done in training and just lay it out on the floor.'”
Kotb pointed out that she essentially stepped into a coaching role.
“I kinda like that a little bit more. I think I’m going to stay with that now,” Biles joked.
On Monday, she shared on Instagram that she felt competing in the preliminaries “wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it.”
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke!” she wrote.
Biles won five medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and has a chance to win six at these games. She is not only the star of the women’s gymnastics team, but arguably the biggest name on Team USA.
Aly Raisman, a former Team USA gymnast who won three Olympic gold medals, said on “TODAY” that she felt “sick to her stomach” about Biles’ exit.
“I think that Simone is the biggest story going into the Olympics, so this is just, it’s really, really devastating,” she said. “But I think it’s also just really important to think about how much pressure has been on her, and there’s only so much that someone can take. You know, she’s human, and I think sometimes people forget that. And Simone, just like everyone else, is doing the best that she can.”
NBC Olympics prime time host Mike Tirico said Biles’ departure was “certainly as odd a turn I think as anyone expected.”
“It was a bizarre twist to say the least,” he said. But Tirico also noted that for Biles, “internally, externally, there was a lot of pressure a lot of expectations and sometimes it’s hard to deliver when that’s the case.”
“We can’t imagine what kind of pressure” she’s under, he said.
Tirico lauded Biles’ teammates, who “with no margin for error, were able to win the silver, which is a great effort on their part.”