That looked like a Hollywood premiere or something like that, no red carpet but with the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach – gray niqui despite the cold with the air conditioning on full blast – in the front row of the corner of the bar. Balance. Simone Biles, the star who returned after a week of recovery from a crisis, acted there – “a mental block”, she explained, which prevented her from orienting herself in space: she was “lost in the air and did not know how to differentiate ceiling from floor” -. The squeals of wild fans echo when they present it.
Simone Biles is back, she breathes the world that has been so concerned about her and about the health consequences of elite sport, the madness of competition, pressure, depression, anxiety. In the pavilion it sounds Schoolgirl, the cumbia of Walter León, the one with the flirtatious face, and it is inevitable to follow the rhythm, the joy.
And she does not stop smiling from the beginning of the competition until the last second, just 15 minutes, eight 70-second performances, and, in between, minutes of anguish waiting for the score. He smiles with his big smile of big happy teeth when he takes off the mask for the photo, he smiles with his eyes until the last second on the podium with the bronze medal around his neck, he smiles even while the anthem of China plays in honor of the new one. Olympic balance beam champion, a girl of just 16 years old, Guan Chenchen, who nails a more risky, more difficult exercise; and, as expected, as Biles knew, china is also the second, Tang Xijing.
“I was already proud of myself just for being there after what I’ve been through,” she said later. “I was neither expecting nor looking for a medal. He just wanted to be here for me, and that’s what I did. ” His place was the third, and he accepts it as a triumph, as he would have accepted to be the eighth, because his victory is another, and he said it nothing ago when he overcame his crisis by training in a Tokyo gym, dropping on soft mats, leaving that time and calm would heal her, and in the afternoon, encouraging her colleagues, her most devoted fan: “I thought I was admired for the medals, but I have verified that I am loved for being the person I am.”
I needed to go back. She, the greatest, could not let her last performance in a gymnastics competition be that of the jump that did not know how to fly last Tuesday in the team championship. A forced landing that miraculously ended up on her feet after aborting her flight when she felt lost in space.
Biles, voluntarily discreet, a star despite himself these days, does not think about the stands, full of compatriots with badges around their necks. He forgets the cameras stuck in his head, watching his every move. It is diluted, one more, among its people, his. Her coach, Cecile Landi, who hugs her; the champion of the full contest, her friend Sunisa Lee, whom she hugs and high-fives with. She arrives at the pavilion two hours early and warms up without the others paying her the slightest attention. It is not special. It is one more. It is like them. And that makes Biles happy. All his gestures are directed at his fellow gymnasts, at seven o’clock with whom victory will be disputed in the last test of the program of female artistic gymnastics, the balance beam. Before starting he approaches the bar. Reach out your arms, the measure of all things, and mark your limits with chalk on the wood.
She knows that she will not win the gold medal any more than she won it five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, the only non-gold medal of her crop of five that elevated her to the throne of the highest figure of the Olympic Games. Victory is the return. A unique act of courage for a person whose absence from the competition until the eleventh day was the big news. Come back without being the usual Biles, the unique gymnast who took her sport to a new dimension and unique popularity. In his 70 seconds on the bar he does his great triple cossack, he fulfills all the requirements, the flic flac and the acrobatic series, the combination of gymnastic jumps, and does an exit with a double pike on his back. The adrenaline, on hold. But it doesn’t include the pirouettes that make her special, the elements that still give her vertigo. It is not the Biles that the public wanted it to be, it is the Biles that it wants to be in which it may be their farewell to the great competition. His last flight.
The show is over. Thomas Bach gets up and leaves the pavilion. The men from the high bar come out onto the stage. The gymnastics continues.
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