As the most decorated gymnast in history and the reigning Olympic champion, Simone Biles entered the Tokyo Olympics with the world watching. But her ability to outperform the competition with almost flawless ease may have given some the notion she is impervious to pressure.
Following the women’s gymnastics qualifying event on Sunday, Biles — often referred to as the greatest of all time (she even has a leotard with a crystal-encrusted goat head emblazoned on it) — took a moment to remind people of the immense weight that comes with the expectations of constant perfection.
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” Biles wrote in an Instagram post. “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard.”
While the 24-year-old topped the all-around qualifying event and advanced to the finals on multiple events, it didn’t come easy. She stepped all the way off the mat following a tumbling pass on her floor exercise, then basically did the same on vault. She responded with a solid set on uneven bars, but a spectacular beam routine ended with her taking three major steps backward following her dismount.
The errors were unexpected for Biles, who herself said the performance was not among her best — and she walked off the podium with a look of frustration and sarcasm. But making no mistakes is an unattainable standard for anyone, something fellow gymnast Nastia Liukin touched on in an Instagram post supporting Biles.
The 2008 Olympic All-Around champion and a five-time Olympic medalist acknowledged the atypical circumstances facing those in the Games, and how all eyes are on them during an already tense period, only heightening the stress they feel.
“I feel like at times, people forget that even the very best in the world are still human — with hearts, nerves, pain, stress, anxiety, pressure,” Liukin wrote. “So let’s continue to spread our love and support to our athletes who are doing something SO difficult already, and then having to also handle the weight of an entire nation and world on their shoulders during a pandemic without fans AND their number one supporters, their family.”
Liukin concluded her post by encouraging people to read what Biles said, adding that she is “always proud” of her.
Biles told Sports Illustrated in a profile published in July that during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, she barely enjoyed competing because of the intense focus she had on pleasing those around her.
“Everybody had such high expectations for me that at the end of the day, I feel like it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I satisfied everybody around me,” she said.
The US squad ended up finishing second during the qualifying event, more than a point behind the Russian team, which toppled predictions by qualifying for the Olympic team final in first place.
“It wasn’t an easy day or my best, but I got through it,” Biles wrote in the post. “The Olympics is no joke! BUT I’m happy my family was able to be with me virtually🤍 they mean the world to me!”
The team final begins Tuesday at 6:45 a.m. Eastern time. Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum make up the US team. Biles and McCallum will compete on every apparatus. Chiles will do the vault and the floor exercise, and Lee will take on the uneven bars and the beam.
To take home gold, the US team must execute cleanly. Biles could perform a Yurchenko double pike, the hardest vault in women’s gymnastics, but will pay special attention to better controlling all of her landings to increase her execution marks.
Material from Globe wires services was used in this report.