(TOKYO) — Gymnasts have been showering support for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team after winning the silver medal in Tokyo — and particularly for Simone Biles and her decision to withdraw from the competition.
Biles competed on the opening rotation of vault Tuesday in the team competition but decided not to compete on any further apparatus.
She had been under an immense amount of pressure going into these Olympic Games, saying earlier this week she felt “the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”
“No injuries, thankfully, and that’s why I took a step back because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured,” Biles said in a press conference following the team competition. “So I thought it was best if these girls took over and did the rest of the job, which they absolutely did.”
The team — consisting of Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum, in addition to Biles — went on to win silver, keeping up the American streak of team medals they’ve held since 1992.
And many gymnasts have spoken up to cheer on the team and voice their support for Biles’ decision, one that put a spotlight on mental health and, perhaps, showed a changing culture for the harsh world of gymnastics, which has faced a reckoning since the Larry Nassar abuse trial.
Biles posted on Instagram she was “SO proud” of her teammates as “they stepped up when I couldn’t.”
“You girls are incredibly brave & talented! I’ll forever be inspired by your determination to not give up and to fight through adversity!” she wrote.
“You will forever be loved,” Chiles commented in return, adding that Biles was a “huge inspiration on all of us” and that they “wouldn’t have done it without you.”
Morgan Hurd, a favorite to make the U.S. team before an injury, wrote on Instagram, “Words cannot describe how proud I am. This team went out there with resilience, grit, and grace. Only they know how hard this sport is not only physically but mentally, let alone on the Olympic stage. Love you guys endlessly.”
Danell Leyva, an Olympic medalist on the men’s side, tweeted, “If anyone says a silver medal at the Olympics isn’t enough, come step outside I just wanna talk.”
Before competition started, Biles’ former teammate Aly Raisman had tweeted, “Just a friendly reminder: Olympic athletes are human & they’re doing the best they can. It’s REALLY hard to peak at the right moment & do the routine of your life under such pressure. Really hard.”
“Wish I could give you the biggest hug,” Raisman posted on Instagram after the final. “Sending you all the love & support.”
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast and the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse, praised Biles in a series of tweets that also cheered on those who have been working to change the culture of gymnastics.
“Today, an athlete and her coach chose her safety first,” Denhollander wrote. “This is the change we’ve worked so hard for. If you can’t see it, you’re part of the problem.”
She added, “Simone has a right to protect her privacy, her mind, her story. She earned her spot in Tokyo. She has the right to protect herself. She doesn’t owe you all anything.”
Many people — including Denhollander — referenced Kerri Strug in comparison to Biles’ decision to withdraw. In 1996, Strug famously competed at the Olympics on an injury, an act that has been both praised for her resilience and used as an example of the pressure gymnasts face to compete.
Strug herself wrote she was “sending love to you @Simone_Biles,” along with an emoji of a goat (because Biles is the G.O.A.T.) and a heart.
She went on to send her congratulations to the whole team, saying, “Great respect for all your hard work and support for each other. We are proud of you!”
Amid the discussion, there was also, of course, lots of celebrating.
“Beyond proud of this team. In my heart, we are winners. We fought til the end and didn’t give up,” Lee posted on Instagram. “Tonight may not have gone how we wanted it to but we stepped up to the plate and give it our all. Best team I could’ve asked for.”
And she gave the team a new nickname — the Fighting Four.
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