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Simone Biles Won Bronze After Returning To Competition In Tokyo Olympics

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Simone Biles has ended her dramatic run through the Olympic gymnastics competition on a high note. Today in Tokyo, Biles won a bronze medal for her performance on the balance beam. This comes after she pulled out of every other event on the program. From Tokyo, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: To be clear, Simone Biles' bronze medal performance is not a victory over the twisties, a malady that became part of the world's lexicon over the past week. It's a malady that strikes a gymnast's sense of position as they twist in the air, essentially losing their way. And Biles still has them. When she watches others twisting, she said last night, quote, "I want to puke every time." What her performance did indicate is that for one night, Biles successfully navigated around her problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONE BILES: Well, the only reason why I could do beam was because there was no twisting. So thank God for that.

GOLDMAN: Actually, there always was twisting at the end of her routine, which she had to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILES: We just last minute decided to switch the dismount, which I probably have not done since I was, like, 12 years old because I've always twisted off.

GOLDMAN: Following her double pike dismount off the beam - the International Gymnastics Federation described it as terrific - Biles beamed. She put her hand over her heart and waved to the partially filled arena, which suddenly sounded full. She looked both happy and relieved. While the performance was a work around the twisties, it did represent a victory in this sense. Her mental struggles had been laid bare in front of the world. She'd largely been embraced after pulling out of all the previous events on the gymnastics program, and the support most likely would have continued had she withdrawn from the final one.

But as positive as she'd been, resolute about caring for her mental and physical well-being, Biles is a fierce competitor who said, quote, "It sucked not to be able to compete in all the finals," for which she qualified. That's why, she said, I was proud of myself just to go out there after what I've been through. Biles still doesn't know why, in her words, the wires snapped and threw her mind and body out of sync. She hopes her very public experience helps others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILES: To bring the topic of mental health, I think it should be talked about a lot more, especially with athletes, because I know some of us are going through the same things and we're always told to push through it.

GOLDMAN: Biles says the next Summer Olympics in Paris are not in her thoughts. I have to go home and work on myself, she said, and be OK with what's happened.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Tokyo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS SONG, "9 CARROTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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