MyKayla Skinner Says Simone Biles Ensured She Stayed in Japan in Case, Thinks Biles Will Compete in Beam
"I was actually going to get on a plane to go home," MyKayla Skinner told reporters on Sunday after her silver medal win. "I wasn't expecting any of this to happen"
Not long after Simone Biles decided she had to withdraw from the women's Olympic gymnastics team all-around event last week, she told her coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi there was something they needed to do: Text MyKayla Skinner, her friend and fellow U.S. gymnast, and tell her not to leave Tokyo.
Biles, 24, could already foresee there was a chance they would need Skinner to step in for her.
She was right.
On Sunday, after Skinner, also 24, replaced Biles in the women's individual vault event and won a silver medal, she spoke with reporters and detailed the reversal of her hopes here at the Summer Games.
And then Biles realized she would not be able to compete after all, starting with last Tuesday's team event, when she withdrew partway through.
"I was actually going to get on a plane to go home," Skinner told reporters on Sunday. "I wasn't expecting any of this to happen. I was like, 'They're going to be fine [without me], they're going to be good.' And then, Simone was down on the floor after team finals and had told Cecile, like, 'You need to text MyKayla to make sure she doesn't go home in case she needs to step in.' "
Skinner said the message came in "right after team finals." Of course she stayed in Japan and began to get herself ready for the possibility she would be needed in the arena.
"It's been kind of hard to get my mindset back into the game. I feel like it's just kind of been all over the place," she admitted. "But," she added, "practice has been going really good. And so it was really cool to be able to go out on the vault finals and take home the silver."
Skinner said she found out on Saturday that Biles was withdrawing and she would be stepping in to compete alongside Jade Carey. Annie Heffernan, vice president of the women's gymnastics program, made the decision with Biles and told Skinner together, she said.
She was the first to compete in vault on Sunday night and the anticipation of where she would rank was "horrible" but rewarding to endure. After all, she earned second.
Asked how she has processed how all this transpired, she sounds like she's still processing.
"I just don't even know how I've been able to, you know, push through this and do what I've been able to do and just to be able to handle all the pressure and be able to go out there and compete and just do this for Simone," she said.
It helped that Biles, along with the other women's gymnasts, were there in person clapping and shouting their support for her and Carey.
"It's so weird, because I'm not used to seeing her in the stands, you know?" Skinner told reporters after. "So it was seriously cool to see her love and support and her cheering us on. And I knew she was going to be the loudest one in there tonight because she's like, 'I want you to make podium. I want you to medal.' "
"She's just been so awesome in the last couple of days," Skinner continued. "And after everything she's gone through, it's really cool to see how strong she's being. I'm like, 'How are you so strong after all this?' Like, I'd be in my room bawling every single night. So just to see how amazing she's dealt with everything and all the horrible comments and just how people are responding to her — she is definitely one strong cookie. And she's definitely inspired me in so many ways."
After Biles' withdrawal from the team event she said she has been grappling with the sudden onset of her loss of air awareness, also called the "twisties." She has also cited her mental health, in particular the stress of competing in these Olympics under the weight of so much expectation.
Biles has since exited from every one of her event finals except the balance beam, which is scheduled for Tuesday. Officials have said she will make a decision about beam this week.
But Skinner said Sunday that Biles was handling her challenges "better than I thought."
"Seriously, every day she's been laughing, giggling, super supportive and, I mean, I'm sure when she gets home it'll probably hit her more," Skinner said, "but since she's around all of us and she's still probably going to be competing ... I'm sure she's just trying to stay in the game. But honestly, she's been the happiest person and I'm so grateful to see after everything she's been through that she's making the best of it."
Reporters asked Skinner to clarify: Did that mean she thought Biles would be up on the beam on Tuesday?
"I think so. Yes," she said, then added: "I don't know for sure. It's kind of up to her. So that's the game plan."
"I think she's very mentally and physically tough," Skinner said. "So I think whatever happens, I think she's just going to let it roll off and just continue with life being the amazing Simone that she is."
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