Simone Biles retook the gymnastics stage on Tuesday after a week’s absence, electrifying the Tokyo Olympics on a day that saw world records smashed and organisers probe Belarus’s treatment of an athlete now in diplomatic protection.
The return of the American, considered by many the greatest gymnast ever, ensured a blockbuster finale. She scored 14.000 on the balance beam to finish third.
She had abruptly dropped out of the team event earlier in the Games citing mental health issues and increasing the global spotlight on the pressures elite athletes face.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it expected a report later in the day from the Belarusian team on the case of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought protection in the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday after refusing her team’s orders to fly home.
She was expected to fly on Wednesday to Poland, which has offered her a humanitarian visa. The IOC spoke twice on Monday to Tsimanouskaya, who was in a safe and secure place, spokesman Mark Adams said.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken accused Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of intolerable “transnational repression” in the matter.
On the track, Norway’s Karsten Warholm shattered his own world record in the men’s 400 metres hurdles final with a blistering 45.94-second run, besting American Rai Benjamin, who also beat last month’s record of 46.70 seconds.
“Man, it’s so crazy. It’s by far the biggest moment of my life,” Warholm said after carving his name among the greats of athletics history and crouching in apparent disbelief on the track. “You know the cliche that it hasn’t sunk in yet? I don’t think it has, but I feel ecstatic.”
Biles, her hopes of six gold medals shattered, has been battling the “twisties”, a condition in which gymnasts lose their orientation while doing twists and gravity-defying mid-air tumbles, that forced her to pull out of events.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who had cited depression in taking a break from tennis in recent months, lost to the world No. 42 in the third round last week, one of many shocking results in this year’s Games.
USA’s Simone Biles in the Women’s Beam Final at Ariake Gymnastic Centre on the 11th day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Tuesday August 3rd, 2021.
Also making history, the first openly transgender Olympian, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, said she does not consider herself a trailblazer and just wanted to be seen as any other athlete on sport’s biggest stage.
Hubbard made an unexpected early exit on Monday, eliminated just 10 minutes into her +87 kg contest, ending an appearance that provoked controversy.
Transgender rights advocates applauded her being allowed to compete, while some former athletes and activists believe her background gives her an unfair physiological advantage and undermines efforts for women’s equality in sport.