Team USA gymnast Grace McCallum will own an Olympic medal when she arrives at the University of Utah, a freshman on the Red Rocks team, this fall.
But it won’t be the medal many expected.
Disappointing, shocking and even surreal — all those adjectives were fitting descriptions of the performance by the U.S. Gymnastics team Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics.
The U.S., which entered the Olympics as the heavy favorite, settled for silver following an unpredictable meet in which superstar Simone Biles pulled out after the first event.
“It’s really hard to lose the best in the world, and we definitely felt a little more stressed,” McCallum told reporters after Biles’ surprise withdrawal. “But I’m really proud of how we did. I think we did amazing. We really fought.”
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) won the gold medal with a score of 169.528 followed by the U.S. (166.096) and Great Britain (164.096).
There were signs the heavily favored U.S. might not be as untouchable as many thought after the Americans finished second to Russia in qualifying. Biles said after the preliminaries she felt the U.S. still did a “pretty good job,” and would work on some little things before the finals.
But the improvements never came.
Biles, who struggled in the previous Olympic Trials and the Olympic preliminaries, put on her sweats for the rest of the night after she nearly fell on her vault landing. The 2016 gold medalist on the vault threw only a one-and-a-half instead of the difficult Amanar vault, a Yurchenko with 2 1/2 twists, but came up short even on the safer vault and scored just 13.766.
After a brief consultation between Biles and a trainer, USA Gymnastics announced Biles was out of the competition with a medical issue and “will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,” according to a statement.
Biles came into the Games looking to repeat her performance in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games where she won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault, floor) and a bronze (beam).
She is slated to compete in the all-around final on Thursday and the event finals later in the week but it is questionable if she will be up for the competitions not only physically but also mentally.
“This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself when I came in — and I felt like I was still doing it for other people,” Biles said after the team event. “So that just hurts my heart because doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
That stress combined with a fear of injury led Biles to withdraw from the team event Tuesday.
“Today it’s like, you know what, no, I don’t want to do something stupid and get hurt,” she said. “It’s just not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes that can step up to the plate.”
The rest of her teammates couldn’t make up the difference without the superstar.
“You never know what pressure is going to do to an athlete,” said Utah coach Tom Farden, who was watching from Salt Lake City. “I’ve seen it even too many college athletes, you don’t know how they are going to handle it.”
The U.S. did make the final two rotations interesting even without Biles, as a big push on the balance beam sent the U.S. into the final rotation trailing ROC 128.03-127.23. McCallum scored a 13.666 on the balance beam while Sunisa Lee had a 14.133 and Chiles had a 13.433.
But the U.S. struggled on the floor with McCallum failing to land her passes cleanly, scoring 13.5. Lee had a team-high 13.666.
McCallum also scored a 14.3 on the vault and a 13.7 on the uneven bars.
Despite the disappointing team result, Farden was thrilled for McCallum, who led off on all the events.
“She did an incredible job,” he said. “It’s quite possibly the hardest place to compete. It’s not like college where you have six compete and five scores count. There everything counts so the stakes are different. For her to compete on the world’s biggest stage confirms what we already knew, that she is one of the absolute best gymnasts in the world.”
The incoming Ute led off every rotation for the U.S., helping the team win silver and earning the nickname “Amazing Grace” from Biles afterward.
“I just knew that we needed to have a really good day and we all did that,” McCallum told NBC afterward. “I think we really stepped up and showed people what we were made of.”