"Mental health first": the message of Biles 1:58
Simone Biles came to the Tokyo Olympics looking to win another gold medal or four and deliver another stellar performance before eventually retiring.
But then he did something his fans had never seen before: He hesitated.
He was attempting an advanced jumping move known as Amanar, which he had performed perfectly in a previous competition.
The move involves a back somersault with two and a half twists in the air before landing.
It's quite a feat for the average Olympian, but when Biles pulls it off, it seems like he did it effortlessly.
On Tuesday, however, Biles "looked like he was lost" somewhere on the air, CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan said.
He almost lands on his knees and leaves the runway on the verge of tears.
Minutes later, the news arrives that Biles would not compete with the team.
"The worst nightmare to happen here," Brennan said of Biles' exit from the event.
The puzzling retirement of Simone Biles 1:13
Her departure stunned the sports world and her many US fans who have seen her repeatedly make the most difficult moves in gymnastics look like standard acrobatics on the playground.
Biles' talent and charisma have catapulted her to such a high and seemingly untouchable pedestal that any mistake is magnified, and it's even more devastating - for Biles and her many fans - when she falls.
Biles is not one to hide how they feel.
After his less-than-perfect performance in Sunday's preliminary round, he said he feels like he has "the weight of the world on [his] shoulders at times."
"I know I shake it off and make it look like the pressure doesn't affect me, but damn it's hard sometimes hahaha," she wrote on Instagram.
Biles, America's most decorated gymnast, defies gravity like a superhuman, but even our near-perfect heroes are fallible.
Watching her slip reminds her many fans of what pressure, however well-intentioned, can do to an international idol.
Simone Biles: "I didn't want to risk a medal for my mistakes ... I deal with the demons in my head"
Biles is seen as a superhuman
Biles is the best gymnast of all time;
look at any of his previous routines and this is undeniable.
He executes such complex movements, so far removed from everything his competitors are capable of, that the gymnastics panel of judges has been accused of moderating his scores so as not to nullify the competition.
Here is a practically unrivaled athlete;
no one has ever made the kind of moves she can.
(Have you heard of the deadly double Yurchenko? Not until Simone Biles, because she was the first to execute him.)
Dozens of articles have said the same thing in the weeks leading up to his return to the Olympics.
He is so talented that he has completely transcended sports and has become the kind of cultural phenomenon that only male athletes used to have in an earlier era.
Simone Biles stumbles when she lands during the women's artistic gymnastics final at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Of all the accolades he received, he generally seemed capable of acknowledging them, acknowledging his supernatural prowess without letting expectations weigh on him.
Gone are the days of the Fierce Five, the nickname for the 2012 U.S. women's gymnastics stars that included Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.
It's all about the 24-year-old powerhouse, measuring 1.42 meters with the dazzling goat embroidered on his tights (in English, goat is "goat", also an acronym for "The Greatest Of All Times", "the best of all the times").
Simone Biles becomes the first woman to achieve a deadly double Yurchenko on her return to competition
But Biles returned to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with something else to prove. She was expected to become the first woman to win consecutive Olympic honors in half a century. These are also his first Games since former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was convicted of sexually abusing young gymnasts, including Biles and Raisman. And she's doing it all without her family as they watch her from half a world away.
Biles is so near perfect that even one missed step is newsworthy.
In the qualifying event, he went out of bounds multiple times, lowering his score (which was still the highest of the day, given the difficulty of his routine).
He knew the bug would make headlines, so he addressed the situation frankly online.
Those comments, those of the "weight of the world" on his shoulders, also made the news.
The spotlight is on her
Biles can't escape attention even when he's off the gym mat.
A teammate from Team USA shared a rapt TikTok when he saw her from afar.
Her celebrity dwarfs that of the other gymnasts she competes with.
She is the most visible face of this year's Olympics.
Biles is competing at a time when much of his life is available for public consumption, with or without his consent.
Like fellow Olympian Naomi Osaka, whose shocking defeat occurred hours before Biles's retirement, Biles has spoken about the mental toll of competing at the highest level and how she is ready to retire.
"There has never been a time in athletic history where we know so much about athletes," said Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor at Ryerson University who studies celebrity culture.
Biles's fans know that she lived in a foster home until she and her sister were adopted by their grandparents.
They know that earlier this year his brother was acquitted of murder charges.
And they know that he was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Nassar and the other USA Gymanstics leaders who didn't stop him.
Simone Biles applauds during the final of the artistic gymnastics women's team during the 2020 Olympics.
Biles is the only survivor of Nassar's abuse competing in Tokyo,
The New York Times
earlier this month.
She told the newspaper about the damage, mental and physical, that the sport has done to her body, and how she went to Tokyo not because of USA Gymnastics, not even completely because of her, but because of the colored gymnasts.
"I'm going to go out and represent America, represent the World Champions Center and represent black and brown girls from all over the world," she told
The New York Times
"At the end of the day, I am not representing USA Gymnastics."
The abuse that Biles experienced does not overshadow her legacy because for many years, she did not acknowledge it even to herself.
He trained regularly at Karolyi Ranch in Texas, where elite young gymnasts like Biles, Raisman, and many more met Nassar on a regular basis.
She did not accept that she, too, had been abused until 2018. The weight of that understanding led to depression, she said, and she spent most of her time sleeping, "because sleeping was better than turning off [herself]," she said in a Facebook series about his life.
Speaking out against abuse is an integral part of why he's back in the Olympics, but it's not the only one.
It represents black girls in gymnastics, gymnasts who want to compete in a safer environment, and survivors of abuse.
She represents Americans and women everywhere.
She is there to make you proud.
And as the brightest star in the 2020 Olympics, he is also trying to impress the entire world.
Simone Biles becomes the most decorated gymnast in history
"The Olympics itself is about creating heroes out of people so that we have something or someone to look up to and inspire us with," Thompson said.
"I think that's the core of the Olympic spirit."
And when we see someone at the peak of athletic achievement, someone we think we know because they have shared so much of themselves with us, fall down and make a mistake, we also feel some of that pain, Thompson said.
Biles knows this and told Hoda Kotb of the "Today" show that she and her team hoped that "America still loves us."
A few hours after the competition ended, Biles told reporters that he felt he "didn't do [his] job" and disappointed his team.
His guilt was palpable.
The 2020 Olympics are more intense than usual, but Biles' time is not over yet
He told reporters that he withdrew not because of an injury, but to "work on [his] mindfulness."
She talked about how stressful it was the day before the event, how she was "shaking" and could barely take a nap after her workout.
He said he had never felt like this before before a competition.
"I think we are too stressed," he told reporters.
"We should be here having fun, but that's not the case."
The 2020 Summer Olympics are more intense than usual.
For one thing, they are occurring during a deadly pandemic that is not slowing down.
Biles's family is not with her to cheer her on from the stands;
very few fans are there.
The Olympics, in the span of two weeks, are a microcosm of the human experience - the euphoric highs, the extreme lows - "the joy of victory and the agony of defeat," Thompson said.
The intensity is part of the audience appeal, he said, but Biles's performance on Tuesday was more shocking than viewers expected.
"The Olympics reflect much of our times," Thompson said.
"And I think this is the perfect metaphor, maybe, for 2021."
Tuesday will not be the end of Biles' legacy in Tokyo.
Her disappointment was evident in her responses to reporters, but she knows herself well enough to notice when something is wrong and when to take time to recover.
She takes it one day at a time, she said, and will continue to be evaluated before the individual competitive events she was scheduled to participate in.
Simone Biles withdraws from Tokyo 2020 all-around final to focus on her mental health
Very few people can say they know what it feels like to be Biles, continually proving that you are the best at something while the world watches.
But Biles is the greatest not because he has never lost, but because, now that he has, he reminds us of what happens when the burden of expectations becomes too heavy for even the most celebrated among us to bear.
She is only a human being, after all, although one who can fly and spin through the air with ease and break records without breaking a sweat.
Biles has given America and the world a hero to support, a hero whose mental health needs attention, something many of her fans can probably relate to.